Lokesh Kanagaraj has been on a roll. Seeing success in every feature since his 2017 debut ‘Maanagaram,’ Kanagaraj has quickly become a directorial darling in Tamil cinema, featuring acting titans of the industry in his last three films. Kanagaraj joins hands once again with actor Vijay, following their 2021 film ‘Master,’ for one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year ‘Leo.’ Unfortunately, the film fails to live up to expectations.
‘Leo’ follows café owner Parthiban, a family man living a serene life in a snowy idyll. His family’s tranquil life is turned upside-down when a group of gangsters come into town and cross paths with Parthiban. The premise is a tale as old as time within the Tamil industry, and although the first third of the story develops nicely, things soon fall apart, especially post-interval. One of the biggest issues in ‘Leo’ is the underbaked writing; once character motivations are revealed in an unforgivable flashback sequence, it is very difficult to take things seriously. What makes this worse is the film could have worked better if the flashback had been completely removed.
The film relies heavily on Vijay’s performance, and his effort can certainly be counted as a recent highlight, especially in comparison to his work in ‘Varisu.’ The film is filled with action blocks, and Vijay’s dedicated stunt work should be lauded. The other standout performance is dance choreographer Sandy Master’s turn as the depraved gangster. The rest of the cast fit the bill for performing as the script demands. Trisha’s character is not given as much scope as it potentially could have had, which is a shame.
Other than the writing, Kanagaraj has certainly improved his craft. The cinematography and camerawork is often great, as Kanagaraj repurposes drone shots and robotic arm movement shots in new contexts. The bright scenes and colours are also a welcome change. Although the CGI was not perfect, it was not a massive deterrent. The action sequences deserve a special mention again for the work from the stunt crew and choreographers, especially in an early pivotal scene, which was also the best in the entirety of the film.
The other major issue of the film is the soundtrack and score by Anirudh Ravichander. ‘Naa Ready’ is a great track, with Anirudh’s signature thumping drums. Whenever the score is solely instrumental, it is adequately quirky and suspenseful. However, every other part of the soundtrack and score is grating and ruins the atmosphere. There are three tracks in particular, all of which contain English lyrics, that rob the film of charm. The ‘My Life is in this Town’ track features awfully on-the-nose lyrics with basic rhymes. The lyrics for ‘Shit-Scared,’ although wishing to seem tongue-in-cheek, come across as juvenile. Finally, the track ‘Badass’ is ultimately not what it says on the tin, and is overused. The immature handling of the soundtrack further hampers the already middling film, emphasising its flaws.
Overall, despite its undeniable spectacle, ‘Leo’ fails to deliver the promises it makes. A great first act is let down by a progressively worsening plot. Although not nearly as cinematically ambitious, ‘Master’ remains the stronger of the director-actor’s collaborations. The film borrows heavily and liberally from its source material ‘A History of Violence,’ which also remains a superior film due to its tonally subdued storytelling, punctuated by moments of extreme violence. The added pomp in ‘Leo’ detracted a lot more than it gained.
Krishna's rating: 2.5 stars
Official trailer for film below.