Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Writers: Lokesh Kanagaraj, Rathna Kumar, Deeraj Vaidy
Duration: 159 minutes
Available in: Theatres
A camera technique that is often reserved for flashy action sequences gives us one of the most satisfying introductory moments that define Leo’s Parthiban (Vijay). After having saved his scenic town in Himachal from a wild hyena (or rather the hyena from its town), Parthi knows what he needs to do next. Manoj Pramahamsa’s camera follows him as he trudges to his cafe, changes out his bloodsoaked white shirt, fixes the coffee machine and readies himself to start the day. Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Leo thrives in its smaller, carefully structured scenes that challenge us to ask one question: what would an ordinary man do, when pushed into the extraordinary? Will he pick up the gun to cocoon his family? Is he ready to let the gun change his life? Leo is invigorating and quite frankly bloody sweet when it's finding answers to these questions. And when it’s not? Just bloody.
Everything about Parthi’s life in Theog is fortifying. This isn’t because he has the most exciting life, but because he lives out his uneventful life with a sort of odd happiness — things we’ve hardly seen Vijay do on screen come in the first hour and a half. He fixes coffee for people, clicks pictures during happy moments, has a phone with the boomer-est ringtone a person could ask for. When else have we heard Vijay being referred to as just a “middle-aged man in a white shirt”? Leo gives us domestic bliss and a Vijay like we’ve never seen before (it helps he not only plays his age, but plays a father to a son and a young daughter). Seconds before his title card appears (Loki creates a special iteration for fans), Vijay isn’t trying to stand out. In fact he tries to hide among the crowd — even if we know the blood on his back will never set him free. These small touches are also why when Parthi is finally forced to pick up the gun, the thrills are satisfying.
In a terrific sequence in his cafe — also featuring Loki’s signature love for 90s tunes in the background — Parthi’s patience is put to test. Two deranged killers (Sandy and Mysskin) walk into his restaurant during closing time to look for quick cash and yet another specific request – a chocolate coffee. A playful scenario between a father and his daughter materialises in real life, and Parthi has to make tough decisions. Is he going to pick up the gun or run? We know exactly how this is going to play out and yet the way Lokesh handles the hero’s turning point is incredible. Bullets are fired, yes. But also helpless wails moaning the end of a person’s protected world are let out. Lokesh takes his time developing not just his characters, but also the set up. So, when a man kills for self defence, we actually see the wait behind bars and take a minute to understand the complexities of the legal system before we get to celebrate the birth of a hero.
Leo is in no way a new premise. Loosely based on body-horror legend David Cronenberg’s masterful A History Of Violence (2005), Leo owns this template and makes it its own in the first half. Like Maria Bello’s Edie in the original, Trisha gets a role she can almost dig into in Leo. Apart from being a loving wife, she’s a fierce protector who will go to any lengths to make sure her children are safe. This also leads to a tender scene between Vijay and Trisha, instantly filling us up with nostalgia. But somewhere along the way, we also realise that Trisha isn’t entirely given the chance to be Maria, because obviously Vijay isn’t Viggo, and this isn’t a small, introspective action film.
Much of what Lokesh tries to achieve in the first half is exchanged for a distracted cocktail of rushed flashbacks, one-note villains and empty mass sequences, as we go past the interval block. An important character that creates a chain reaction is killed off as quickly as they are introduced, a murderous father randomly returns and talks about the power of coming from the same blood, and a chase begins with no clear purpose. This means that it’s time for Anbarivu’s fight sequences to flow one after the other meticulously. But the effect of these scenes comes not from a place of emotional heft, but from Anirudh’s faultless score and the duo’s penchant for inventive stunts. There is no place here for Dilli’s exaggerated yet terrific return from the dead to beat the living daylights out of junkies in Kaithi, nor is there a hint of tension that Karnan and Amar managed to create in Vikram’s interval.
But at the end of the day, Leo is all about the small things that we never thought we’ll take home from a film like this. Whether it’s a superbly lowkey scene that lets us know whether Leo is part of LCU or the tiny yet spectacular combination of exhaustion and relief that sits on a character’s face at a crucial moment, Leo, while leaving a few things to be desired, gives us the glimpse of a new kind of star film to root for.