White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time


Tamil Movie Review: Leo is an exhilarating action-crime-mystery, even in spite of a second half that doesn’t fully deliver

Vijay stars in the new Tamil film LEO, here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

If you had asked me one year ago to compile a list of 100 American movies made in the last twenty years that would make good candidates to be reimagined by Tamil filmmakers, I doubt I ever would have come up with David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. And yet, as envisioned by Lokesh Kanagaraj – in the third chapter of his larger “LCU” or “Lokesh Cinematic Universe,” no less – the inspiration feels entirely logical and natural. In fact, if there’s a quibble to be had with Leo, it’s that it feels a little too safe and familiar for a Kollywood smash-hit, not that its imagination is too large. For a movie that actively announces itself as a “tribute” to A History of Violence in its opening titles, Leo never really tries to mimic Cronenberg’s penchant for psychological boundary-pushing.

While the adaptation choice may strike some as peculiar given the film’s more modest ambitions, Leo does successfully take the basic setup of A History of Violence and mold it to fit a traditional Kollywood crime saga fronted by a protagonist with a suspicious past. Like Viggo Mortensen’s Tom Stall before him, Vijay’s Parthiban here becomes an accidental local celebrity in his small town after he successfully defends himself, his daughter, and his staff by gunning down a group of homicidal maniacs robbing his café after-hours. The attention proves entirely unwanted, however, when he becomes a target as a result. And the men who want him dead are not just those linked to the ones he killed. There is another, much larger, much scarier group who spot Parthiban in the news and feel confident they’ve finally found an ex-associate they’ve long been searching for named Leo Das. Given Parthiban’s stunning marksmanship during the self-defense incident, we have a feeling they might be right, despite his vehement denials.

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Tamil Movie Review: Jailer succeeds on star power, despite underwhelming twists

White Guy Watches Bollywood reviews the new Tamil movie "Jailer," starring Rajinikanth and Vinayakan. Written and directed by Nelson.

Before Jailer, I had never seen a single movie starring Rajinikanth before, but one need not have even heard of any of the Tamil movie industry legend’s 150+ previous credits to know that he is a superstar. The film makes it aggressively clear just what a force this man is, nearing self-parody in the sheer number of slow-motion shots it features of the hero arriving in each scene. It also seeks to afford his thick-rimmed glasses the same iconic motif status as Indiana Jones’ bullwhip or Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum; apparently, Rajinikanth only needs corrective lenses to be able to kick ass. Through such explicit stylistic pronouncements, it feels like writer/director Nelson is introducing Rajinikanth to the entire world at the ripe age of 72, with Kollywood films like Jailer receiving broader distribution than ever before, just as much as he is engaging in fan service for the actor’s loyal following. In other words, he’s welcomely catching the rest of us up.

With an even slightly lesser star, this strategy easily could have backfired, coming across as cheesy and over-the-top. But much like Liam Neeson in the first Taken and Keanu Reeves in John Wick, Rajinikanth has the sheer level of magnetism required to sell the filmmaker’s balls-to-the-walls vision with a surprising level of internal credibility. We don’t bat an eyelash as this 72-year-old takes down hordes of men half his age – somehow, it feels positively logical. And what a sight it is to watch him do it; in much the same way that Top Gun Maverick did in the U.S. last year, Jailer reminds audiences what a true movie star looks like. Even as the film’s plot descends into complete nonsense – and boy does it ever – you’re completely transfixed by Rajinikanth as Muthuvel Pandian, the police pensioner who comes out of retirement to avenge his dead son.

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