notgoodreviews’s review published on Letterboxd:
(this is just some rambling, unstructured thoughts on the car ride back - sorry for lack of proper structure but i think i cover everything i wanted to)
karthi's effortless portrayal of vanthiyathevan seems to be the key to translating this epic novel to the screen, the movie hangs onto his shoulders for dear life as his horse Semba whisks us away with the adventurous spirit needed to appeal to a mainstream audience. it felt like mani ratnam built upon the ensemble storytelling he deployed in cck, with karthi replacing vjs' rasool as the goofball outsider caught up in all the mess. all of karthi's scenes are so delightful and light, his quick witted responses to his various precarious situations are so fun to witness and ground this larger-than-life tale of warring kingdoms. that's not to say the other characters aren't interesting - that couldnt be further from the truth but a lot of what makes this work is that we are seeing most of these characters through the excited eyes of our relatable protagonist. the two leading women (actually all the women in this movie are stunning) are elevated to this mythical status - the lightning and thunder that cannot coexist, when we are introduced to them we are introduced through the starry, woman-obsessed eyes of vanthiyathevan and as such seeing them from the eyes of a commoner makes their prescence so memorable. of course this is due to the audiovisual combination of mani ratnam, ravi varman and a.r.rahman (and lets not forget the prolific long time editor sreekar prasad! poor guy never gets mentioned lol), capturing these gorgeous sets in constantly inventive ways with close-ups, wides and zooms spliced together when a lesser team would stick to just a simple wide, their treatment of the fight scenes make them feel chaotic, hectic sacrificing some coherence for thrill and awe. vikram is left in charge of the pre-interval cliffhanger in a stunning monologue in which he drinks to forget the deep-rooted pains of a childhood lover with flashbacks spliced in a non-linear fashion and grand sweeping camerawork to accompany his every word and boy was it a breathtaking way to cap off a tremendous first half! this setpiece honestly could have stood alone as a short film - karikalan's character is somehow fully developed in just a few minutes with gaps filled in by the actors own portrayal. also, man jayam ravi is perfect as arunmozhi varman! the poor guy has been subjugated to one mindnumbingly poor role after another but he has reminded me as to why he was such a star to begin with here! (seeing ravi here, and swamy in kadal makes me want to see thani oruvan again tbh)
so, the sets, the actors, the music, the cinematography is perfect so... is this a masterpiece? well... not quite. something ive noticed about from what ive seen of rathnam's latest work (i'd say aayitha ezhuthu onwards) is that they are absolutely impeccable up to a point. kadal's perfect first forty minutes, the brilliant first story of a.e., the stunning first halves of this and raavanan (to a lesser extent cck) are interrupted as the films work to set up a final act that may or may not work. kadal and raavanan especially suffer as, for me anyways, their endings just feel rushed and cheap. in the case when the endings are pretty good (here, cck, a.e.) it's less egregious but when the movie's begin so strongly you just wish they could maintain this hold for the whole thing - and i think here as fun as the final fight is, it doesnt reach the highs of the first half. late stage mani ratnam is the most fascinating to me (and probably my favourite barring the "holy trinity" - iruvar, nayakan, thalapathi), constantly experimenting, reinventing himself adapting his technique to fit various genres and he remains a master of presentation and honestly, i'm eagerly anticipating the day when he is able to maintain this sense of momentum for a full feature length. for me, it's raavanan (which i plan to revisit very soon) where this saddens me the most - if the whole movie was as good as that first half it'd be like my favourite movie of all time.
i'm also a little worried about ps:two, i made the conscious decision to not read the books before the movie (have heard many complaints about how this was adapted, which i understand, and tbh it makes me even more grateful i made this decision lol) but apparently there's still three books left to cover? and the third book of these three is double the size of all the others... in three hours mani ratnam has only covered two and it already feels a bit chopped up (although as a non-reader it wasn't so bad) part of me hopes the next part ends on another cliffhanger so they get an entire movie to portray the final book.