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Leo-struck Lokesh loses the plot this time – Beyond Bollywood


Though partly inspired by a 90s Bollywood blockbuster, the Tamil film crumbles in its self-destructive plot. Vijay largely wages a lone battle

Rating: ⭐️⭐️ (2 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

After taming a spotted hyena, Parthiban [Vijay] is telling a bizarre chor-police [thief-cop] story to his teen son and young daughter. What’s the moral of this story?  His son Siddhu nonchalantly says that the hero should kill the villain. The father reprimands the son telling him that the hero should never take the law in his own hands.

It doesn’t take long before Parthiban encounters the real-within-the-reel.  Left with a difficult choice to save either his daughter or female employee, Parthiban stuns all by killing the five unwanted gangsters in his coffee shop in Theog, Himachal Pradesh. The danger is averted but Parthiban has failed the morality test. From here on, how can he preach morality to his children.

Expectedly, the court deems it as an act of self-defense and pardons Parthiban. Life though can never be the same after such a dark episode. You kill gangsters, there will be repercussions. Clearly, these goons from South India have no rules/ethics. Why do they always want to create a bloody scene in front of the family members. Poor Mathi aka Chintu [Iyal] witness another blood fest, this time in an open market. Thankfully, writer-director Lokesh Kanagaraj is mindful of showing how these bloody events had traumatized the poor child. However, come the third time, the kid remarkably seems immune to these attacks.

Parthiban’s family, entire town is bewildered as to how this migrant from Chennai, who couldn’t even hurt a fly before, killed five dreaded gangsters in five precisive shots. It doesn’t take long for the word to spread, and soon we have Andhra man Antony Das [Sanjay Dutt] landing in Himachal Pradesh with his remaining gang. He arrives close to the interval point and that is when the Leo-mystery surfaces. Who is Leo? What connection does he have with Parthiban? 

Any further disclosure would be a reveal. However, writer-director Lokesh Kanagaraj himself admitted to taking inspiration from a 90s blockbuster. Hum nahi batane wale (We aren’t revealing anything).  There’s a striking similarity, but where Leo differs is that the conflict here is more internal, plus it reeks of superstition. Honestly, it gets more bizarre and illogical.  Often hailed as a maverick filmmaker, a modern master of the crime action thriller genre, writer-director Lokesh Kanagaraj fumbles badly here. It’s hard to say, but for the first time, Kanagaraj doesn’t have a convincing plot. The Himachal setting brings a certain pan-India appeal but it’s the demand of the story. This film though is lost in its Leo-struck narrative.

Vijay

Kaithi [2019], Vikram [2022] and now Leo.  All the three films in the Lokesh Cinematic Universe have a mystery around the protagonist. The mystery over the identity is fine, but Leo will divide opinion. As things unfold, it’s evident that Kanagaraj is indulging into white washing.  This reviewer is not a fan but this is the age of the antihero.  

The title has both astrological, biblical meaning. The superstition sub-plot only adds to the metaphorical references. A Parthiban or Leo encompass the strength of a lion. It’s remarkable how despite all the violence, the core of LCU films is all about protecting the family. After a smashing hyena-taming entry, Vijay charms as the defender, the family man.  There’s a certain vulnerability too with Parthiban prone to emotional reaction in the odd moments.

Sandy Master in Leo [2023]

Kanagaraj is often equated with Quentin Tarantino. He has his own style and sense of drama.  The plot maybe unconvincing, but there is no dearth of style, drama.  It’s first displayed not through Vijay, but by Sandy Master who plays the unnamed psychotic gangster. Though evil, Master puts up a brilliant act.  It’s a Vijay show from hereon. He reunites with his Master [2021] filmmaker and delivers another strong performance – both emotionally and physically.

Leo is largely a one man show but that is down due to its narrative. It’s not to say that others have been underwhelming. Trisha Krishnan has more than an academic [working wife] role. Not the just the town, but she, too, is curious by this sudden rage in her husband. Trisha always had a great screen presence but she also chips in a with a measured performance.

Sanjay Dutt has found a new lease of life in South Indian cinema.  He’s the ultimate style icon, but he doesn’t convince much as Antony Das. Arjun Sarja, who plays Das’ brother Harold, is more impressive.

An underrated, under confident cop is a must in Kanagaraj’s films. George Maryan is amusing as the misfit cop Napolean.

Chunk of the drama come alive through riveting background score and gripping action choreography. Kanagaraj and composer Anirudh Ravichander are an inseparable pair.  The latter perhaps often reserves his best for Kanagaraj. They have a flair for western BGM that elevates the overall dramatic experience in a noir. BGM serves as a character onto itself in Kanagaraj’s films. The playback music too isn’t lost in translation for Hindi viewers.  Naa Ready, a Kuthu number is always popular with the masses.

The production design, and cinematography is top-notch too.  Regrettably, the biggest letdown down is the ‘Leo’ backstory. For all its technical brilliance, star power, Leo turns out into a big disappointment. Lokesh Kanagaraj is after all human.  Leo might be underwhelming, but there is promise of a wholesome entertainment when Dilli [Karthi], Leo joins forces with Vikram [Kamal Haasan], Amar [Fahadh Faasil] to take down the biggest threat Rolex [Surya]. 


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