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Captain Miller - a cinematic misfire

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Arun Matheswaran has carved a niche for himself with his first two films. Landing on the scene with hyper-violent art film 2021’s ‘Rocky,’ he swiftly followed it up last year with the equally violent ‘Saani Kaayidham.’ The Keerthy Suresh starrer was a tightly written revenge film with stunning cinematography, performances and score. Matheswaran proved himself to be a highly capable director, and looked to expand his vision and scope with this year’s release ‘Captain Miller.’ Starring Dhanush and scored by GV Prakash, Matheswaran had his eyes set on entering the commercial zone. 

The film follows Dhanush’s Analeesan, a man who feels belittled by the system, and so joins the British army in order to gain some semblance of social respect. Upon being forced to act against his morals and beliefs, Eesan reconsiders his lifepath. 

Matheswaran suggested the film was inspired by the life of Vallipuram Vasanthan whose nom de guerre was Captain Miller, the first Black Tiger. However, due to pushback from the film industry, the film's plot has been fundamentally altered.

‘Captain Miller’ sadly does not work. In Matheswaran’s pursuit to satisfy the commercial audience, he has failed in creating an emotionally coherent film. The film lacks the thematic nuance, the technical care and storytelling prowess which was abundantly evident in his previous film. The film is too caught up in jumping from one plot point to another that it does not pay enough attention to letting thoughts and emotions properly play out or marinate. 

The performances lack presence. Dhanush, one of the strongest performers in the Tamil industry, tries his best with the material he has been given. However, due to the weak screenplay, the character of Analeesan feels more like an idea than a real person. The character of Velmathi provides Priyanka Arul Mohan with some range in her portfolio. Aditi Balan, another strong performer, is underused. The film has a whole troupe of fantastic actors (Elango Kumaravel, Nivedhithaa Sathish, Kaali Venkat etc) who it fails to give meaty roles to. 

The film opens with its central theme ‘myth-making’, and it is a fascinating one. The frame narrative is a great way to explore this theme, but it is not done extensively. Important questions such as fate and free will are touched upon. The ingredients for a weighty, great film are present, but are never truly investigated. The visual filmmaking is decent. Matheswaran’s technical skill has always been strong, in terms of cinematographic vision (collaborating with the ever impressive Siddhartha Nuni). The first twenty minutes of the film are its highlight, reaching an editing crescendo, rhythmically jumping from shot to shot (great work from Nagooran Ramachandran). However, the film soon loses its pace and never recovers.

The spaghetti-western style is evident too, especially in the soundtrack. GV Prakash Kumar’s best seems to be extracted by being involved in a project with either of the Kasthuri Raja brothers. In the score for ‘Captain Miller,’ we see Prakash Kumar at his most experimental. The score and soundtrack take its cue from Westerns. The minimal ‘Un Oliyile’ is a valiant musical effort. ‘Kombari Vettapuli,’ sung by Dhee, is a jaunty tune. However, ‘Killer Killer’ lacks the punch it aspires for. 

Overall, ‘Captain Miller’ falls for similar pitfalls that the mainstream titans of yesteryear fell victim to. Underwritten, focussing on ‘mass’ moments rather than being tonally/emotionally/logically cohesive and with a weak script, Matheswaran’s shift to commercial cinema is sadly not a successful one. Although a sequel seems to be set up, the foundations seem to not quite provide a path for a satisfactory conclusion. I hope I will be proved wrong. I would highly recommend Matheswaran’s ‘Saani Kaayidham’ if you enjoyed ‘Captain Miller.’

Krishna's rating: 2.5 stars


Official trailer for film below. 

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