Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Writers: Lokesh Kanagaraj, Rathna Kumar, Deeraj Vaidy
Cast: Vijay, Sanjay Dutt, Trisha Krishnan, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Arjun Sarja, Priya Anand
Duration: 159 minutes
Available in: Theatres
Even before the film’s release, Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Leo enjoyed a certain hype, thanks to the most asked question - Is the Vijay-starrer part of LCU? If so, will it have cameos or voice cameos from the stars of the universe? The trailer only furthered the hype, leaving the audience with more questions. Is Leo an adaptation of A History of Violence? Is Leo and Parthiban (aka Parthi) the same person? While Lokesh opens his film by acknowledging that the ideas for Leo were indeed born out of A History of Violence, he lets his work reveal the other answers.
In all of Lokesh’s previous films — Maanagaram, Kaithi and Vikram — we had a clear idea of where the story was headed. Right from the beginning, we knew Karthi had to assist cop Bejoy in saving the police force and stopping a drug syndicate in Kaithi. In Vikram, even though Kamal Haasan’s Karnan was killed in the very first shot, we already knew what was coming. We were even told Vikram was a part of the cinematic universe. So, the films were not much about the whats or whys but focused on the how of it. However, with puzzling questions, Lokesh gives equal importance to whats, whys and hows in Leo, keeping us guessing for a long time. It works in the film’s favour that even if sometimes the whys are middling, the hows ensure to keep you focused and vice versa.
The film is also packed with several new attempts, which doesn’t belong to Lokesh’s style. Some leave an impact, while a few don’t. He ventures into emotional sequences and gets into the psyche of his lead characters, which gives us ordinary, flawed and vulnerable people who are unlike the ideal Vikrams and Rolexes of his films. Likewise, for the very first time, we get a flashback for the protagonist in his film. I always think Lokesh is someone who believes a person’s past doesn’t matter after a point. That it could define a person or shape their lives, but it doesn’t necessarily mean who they are in the present. Which is probably why the flashback was a one-liner in Kaithi, a series of meaningless rumours in Master and a simple but moving eye contact in Vikram. Even though Lokesh seems to believe the same concept in Leo as well, he blows it into a mini-film. The overlong flashback gives Vijay his usual hero entry, mass moments and a dance number. But they would have served better in a different film. After getting used to his simple flashbacks, we wish Leo had taken the same route.
The film is about an ordinary man who encounters an extraordinary issue, at least that is the case when we talk about Parthi. If a dear one of yours is going to get killed, will you murder the enemy and protect yourself and others? If you do so, are you a murderer who needs to serve prison time? Lokesh and the writers Rathna Kumar and Deeraj Vaidy keep it real. In A History of Violence, when Viggo Mortensen’s Tom Stall murders two gangsters to save the people in his diner, the locals celebrate him as a hero. But when Vijay’s Parthi does it in Leo, they first arrest him. Only after a detailed investigation, he is released on the basis of self-defence. The makers also mention PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) conditions. Although it is just said in passing, a mention of psychological condition in a mainstream film goes a long way in normalising mental health care. Such detailing, though doesn’t add a lot to the central plot, ensures we buy into the lives of Parthi, Sathya (Trisha) and their struggles.
Another welcome move from Lokesh Kanagaraj in Leo is the importance given to Trisha’s character. Even though Sathya has nothing to do with Parthi’s constant action sequences, you can spell out her character. Unlike the women in Vikram or Malavika Mohanan’s Charulatha in Master, who either remained the McGuffins or were just physically present in the frame, Sathya’s own feelings and flaws take centre stage here. But the same cannot be said of the other women characters — a police officer’s wife, a courageous gangster or the wife of a rowdy who swears to take revenge for his death. They exist for a dialogue or two.
The red-toned frames, slow-panned aerial shots of the Das & Co company crammed with gangsters and drug dealers, the gigantic eagle statue and the intentionally made visible bloody nerves on Harold Das’ face make for a visually compelling world of the antagonists. However, there is so little in the writing for us to fear the violent Antony Das and Harold Das. Even Sandy’s evil smile stops being creepy after a point.
Vijay is terrific in Leo. The constant guessing game in predicting the identities of Parthi and Leo is brilliantly carved in a way to hold your entire attention until the last moments, and this unpredictability also lends more scope for Vijay to perform. For instance, there is an excellent idea behind portraying Vijay’s internal battle as he tries to move on after murdering a few people because of circumstances. However, the writing gets inconsistent here that the idea is mostly made believable because of Vijay’s performance. Vijay has multiple swashbuckling action sequences, but Gautham Vasudev Menon (Parthi’s friend) and Mathew Thomas (Parthi’s son) get equally heroic moments with perfectly aimed gunshots and spear throws.
After his magic in Vikram and Jailer, Anirudh is back again, ensuring the mass moments get mass-ier in Leo. Just like the ‘Hukum’ song in Jailer, ‘Badass’ and other songs are placed perfectly. It goes beyond just adding value to the scene or conveying a certain emotion; it elevates our whole film-watching experience. The mark of Lokesh shines brightly through his innovative violence sequences. Be it the Hyena sequence (props to the excellent VFX works) or the typical climax fight you have come to expect in Lokesh’s films, his action portions overflow with creativity that even the basic hero saving his wife template is exciting enough.
Lokesh has mentioned several times that Leo is 100% his film. The signs of it are pretty visible that even when the star services are done, it is very well a part of the film's narrative and we have a hero who is unabashedly flawed. The hero here isn't good or bad. Nor is he grey-shaded. He is just a human; a normal human being who isn't embarrassed about accepting his mistakes and tries to become a better person. Be it LCU or not, there is a certain uniqueness we have come to associate with Lokesh and even though Leo works well as a film, it misses the director's touch in several parts. That is why whatever disappointment we might feel is not because Leo is middling but because it feels like Lokesh chose to settle for less or perhaps, the usual.