Leo review: Vijay’s emotionally weak action overload is held up by some crafty filmmaking

Oct 19, 2023 03:03 PM IST

Leo review: Vijay’s performance in emotional scenes evokes no reactions even as Lokesh Kanagaraj provides ample electrifying action scenes.

Leo is the story of a seemingly ordinary man whose past comes calling—pushing him back to the verge of extreme violence. There is nothing inventive about this. Of course, we've seen this story play out in the movies all our lives. What's inventive about Lokesh Kanagaraj's Leo is how he stages this story, with exceptional support from stunt choreographers Anbariv, cinematographer Manoj Paramahamsa, editor Philomin Raj and music director Anirudh Ravichander. (Also Read: Leo movie review and release live updates: Vijay gets praise but film isn't Lokesh Kanagaraj's best)

Leo review: Vijay plays Leo Das in Lokesh Kanagaraj's new film.
Leo review: Vijay plays Leo Das in Lokesh Kanagaraj's new film.

What's Leo about?

The serene landscape of Theog seems perfect for the bloodbath that ensues. Parthiban (Vijay) looks ordinary—and agile—in his neatly-pressed formals. His adolescent son (Mathew Thomas) knows a trick or two with a spear. His wife Sathya (Trisha) is your average nagging, suspicious wife and strict mother; and the daughter (Iyal), a scaredy cat who adores her father. Peppered around are some uncooperative cops, a helpful Ranger (Gautham Menon) and his god-knows-what-I'm-doing-in-this-film wife (Priya Anand).

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One fine evening, this serenity is disturbed by a chance encounter with a group of rogues, who give Parthiban unsolicited infamy that brings a rain of thugs from all over the country. How Parthiban handles this onslaught of violence makes the rest of the film.

What works

What Lokesh Kanagaraj does well is create visual treats that ignite fan frenzy. In the middle of all the slow-motion shots and blood-spewing punches, there are also noteworthy moments like Parthiban lighting crackers on a cigarette between his lips while trying to corner a hyena. It helps immensely that Vijay looks sharp, almost charming when he’s interacting with people. His camaraderie with his teenage son is interesting (unlike the patronising one he has with his daughter).

Lokesh also does a multi-starrer rather well. Even the grossly underwritten Anthony Das (Sanjay Dutt), Harold Das (Arjun) and the annoyed thug played by Mysskin are memorable. The cleverly inserted Mansoor Ali Khan and George Maryan evoke nostalgia. The Lokiverse insertions seem forced sometimes, though harmless.

Vijay in a still from the film.
Vijay in a still from the film.

Despite every third sequence being a stunt, Anbariv creates some level of interest in each of them, including the indoor fight scene overlaid on a '90s romantic song that we’ve come to expect from the Lokiverse. Manoj Paramahamsa captures these with attention, often lighting up the dark exclusively for effect. Speaking of effect, Anirudh brings all his might into whipping us up into a trance.

What doesn't work

Philomin Raj is focused on pace. He cuts the scenes rather tight, we don’t linger to see the aftermath of the extraordinary violence, deaths and maiming of hundreds, that perhaps Lokesh doesn’t want us to process it either. It is here that Leo fails in giving us the emotional core to connect with Leo Das, his conflict and his journey.

Therefore, while the craftiness may be bloody sweet, the writing feels rather bitter. Even as Vijay fans rejoice the mass moments, there is nothing for the rest of us to invest in. When Parthiban finds himself shooting dead trespassers who threaten to hurt his daughter, he is surprised by his capacity for violence, but we’re not, because we expect Vijay to do all this and more. When Parthiban breaks down into loud tears on realising that his beloved wife is suspicious of him, we scoff, because we all know that he is indeed betraying his wife’s trust.

It also doesn’t help that Vijay’s performance in emotional scenes evokes absolutely nothing! The reasons for Anthony and Harold Das’ real villainy—that they are drug lords killing hundreds isn’t enough, because Leo Das is one of them—are laughable. But it doesn’t matter why, we just want to see Vijay punch down a few men. So, Parthiban alias Leo Das is a stunt machine, with little capacity for emotional introspection.

Sathya is so underwritten that despite being given a weapon and instructions on using it, she is outdone by a computer graphics hyena. So is the short-lived Elsa (Madonna Sabastian), whose role had great potential. It is almost as if the writers Lokesh Kanagaraj, Rathna Kumar and Deeraj Vaidy threw a bone to those of us angry feminists who make a fuss about the Lokiverse being laughably short of substantial women.

Despite the reasons for Leo’s transformation, the film is not a meditation on the consequences of choosing violence or abandoning it. In fact, it celebrates being badass—the film is called Leo, after all. We see a spark of pure evil when Parthiban finally admits his origins. This makes the entire “who am I?” spiel of the first half rather futile.

By no means is Leo about peaceful reformation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Leo is the assertion that reformation is a well-performed act that is right to be undone as needed. So, it is yet another edition of Lokesh Kanagaraj’s filmography about lawless violent men, who fancy themselves as saviours of the world, fighting other lawless violent men we are conned into thinking of as distinctly more evil.

Depending on our inclination, it can be fun for us to watch as this world spins on its head. I am inclined to think otherwise.

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