Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Cast: Thalapathy Vijay, Trisha Krishnan, Sanjay Dutt, Arjun Sarja, Gautham Vasudev Menon, Myskkin, Madonna Sebastian, Priya Anand
Where: Running in cinemas
Rating: 3 stars
Given the mammoth success of both Kaithi (2019) and Vikram (2022), expectations are huge from Lokesh Kanagaraj. In his acknowledgements, the director attributes the inspiration of Leo to A History Of Violence, helmed by David Cronenberg that starred Viggo Mortensen in the lead. Does he deliver a worthy film to expand his Lokesh Cinematic Universe universe or does he succumb to fandom?
Parthiban (Vijay) resides in Theog, Himachal Pradesh with his wife Sathya (Trisha) and their two children. In a welcome departure by Kanagaraj, Vijay is denied his usual grand introductions, which is necessary in order to justify his common man situations. But, when he tranquilises a hyena on the loose (the scene clearly a hat-tip to Jr. NTR's introduction in S.S. Rajamouli's RRR), he is immediately hailed as a hero in his town. What follows is a series of strange encounters where Parthiban realises that he and his family are being hunted down because he resembles dreaded gangster Leo Das, who was presumed to be dead. When Das’ tobacco kingpin father Antony (Sanjay Dutt) and uncle Harold (Arjun Sarja) trace his whereabouts, Parthiban must do what it takes to secure his family and himself.
The film coasts along smoothly when trying to interpret its source material. But, post the second half, it lays complete emphasis on figuring whether Parthiban is Leo or not. Here’s where it falters. Which is a pity because Vijay completely surrenders himself to playing his part, maintaining the mystery about his identity right till the end. It’s Kanagaraj’s direction which takes the backseat. As aforementioned, much of the director’s fanfare that followed post Kaithi and Vikram was due to his ability to establish an experience and create arcs for every character in the cast. Unfortunately, except for our lead hero, nobody else gets a moment to shine. Trisha, who was amazing as Princess Kundavai in Ponniyin Selvan, is constantly sporting a worried expression. Dutt and Sarja aren’t allowed enough screen-time to establish their menace. Even the charming Madonna Sebastian, who plays Elisa, Leo’s sister, enters and exits the frame before the viewers are accorded a chance to understand her importance.
What works though is Kanagaraj smartly gives away his plans to expanding his LCU. With a key character from Kaithi brought in and the climax featuring a familiar voice, fans of Tamil cinema have a lot to cheer about. Anirudh Ravichander’s music, except for the massy Naa Ready, is forgettable but his background score is competent. Manoj Paramahamsa’s cinematography ensures flattering visuals of Himachal Pradesh.
Leo easily disarms viewers from remembering the ghosts of Master, Beast and Varisu. Thalapathy Vijay fans can dance away to theatres, Lokesh Kanagaraj fans can sit in hope of a more compelling film.