‘Rocky’ movie review: Arun Matheshwaran announces his arrival with a bloody brilliant revenge drama

Shot after shot, scene after scene, ‘Rocky’, with its superb writing and even better staging, keeps hitting you

A wide shot. A car is in the centre of the frame. Rocky (Vasanth Ravi) stands next to it. There are sickle- and knife-wielding men at one end. There are sickle- and knife-wielding men at the other end too. There is nowhere to go. Rocky is checkmated. Or so we think until Rocky — no, I will not ruin this moment for you. You have to watch it; watch it and be gobsmacked. You have to watch it to experience the exhilaration of a film that is likely to be the talk of the town in the next few days or weeks, perhaps.

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The film is not just about this climactic moment. Shot after shot, scene after scene, Rocky, with its superb writing and even better staging, keeps hitting you. It is impossible not to be knocked out by its brilliance.

Arun Matheshwaran’s first film is probably among the best first films of Tamil cinema. Unfortunately, there were not many people in the multiplex hall in Coimbatore where I watched the film. Arun, perhaps, is familiar with this initial lukewarm response. The first film in which he worked as an assistant director received a similar reception but later developed a cult following. Remember Aaranya Kaandam?

A few things about Arun Matheshwaran’s filmmaking are reminiscent of Thiagarajan Kumararaja (whom he calls his “boss”). Especially the cheeky humour. For example, the right-hand men of ganglords are usually called ‘valadhu kai’ (right hand). But, in this film, Rocky calls him ‘valadhu kottai’ (right testicle). There is one more shot involving testicles that is deliciously dark and hilarious — it deservedly got a standing ovation from a few members of the audience. In another scene, a man slits another’s throat as a peppy SPB Telugu song plays in the background.

‘Spirit of Tarantino’

The spirit of Quentin Tarantino is also unmissable. The film, for instance, is segmented into chapters. And each chapter has a title written in large font. In one scene, Rocky talks about God before proceeding to butcher a guy’s head with a hammer which reminded me of Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson) quoting Ezekiel 25:17 before spraying bullets onto a man’s torso.

‘Rocky’ (2021)

  • Director: Arun Matheshwaran
  • Cast: Vasanth Ravi, Bharathiraja, Raveena Ravi, Rohini
  • Storyline: After a 17-year sentence, Rocky, seeking a fresh start, goes in search of his sister, Amudha. But the nightmares of his violent past continue to chase him.
  • Duration: 129 minutes

It is understandable if this dark, violent, and funny neo-noir action drama evokes a bit of Tarantino and Kumararaja. But, surprisingly, a few parts in the film also reminded me of Terrence Mallick’s Tree of Life. Arun is unafraid (or indulgent enough) to veer into an arthouse zone. There is a black-and-white shot of the protagonist standing in the middle of shallow waters, looking at a mirror. In fact, about 40% of the film is in black-and-white.

Shreyaas Krishna’s camerawork is splendid. The frame, the light, and the colour intensify the drama unfolding on the screen. There is a particular fight sequence wherein Rocky takes on multiple henchmen in an under-construction multi-storey building at night. The henchmen run towards Rocky and get killed — one of them is thrown off from the second floor to death. A long, continuous shot is employed so that we get to see three floors, lit in neon red and blue, where the entirety of the action unfolds. Slowly, we see that this is the point of view of the antagonist, Manimaran (played by a superb Bharathiraja). It is one of the best shot action sequences in Tamil cinema ever.

Arun and Shreyaas use a lot of long takes that immerses us into the world of Rocky. Darbuka Siva’s minimal background helps a great deal too. In one of the gruesome fight scenes, where Rocky smashes people’s heads with a hammer, Siva uses veena and mridangam! (Perhaps ‘gruesome’ is a redundant adjective here because Rocky is the kind of guy who does not just kill, he butchers you, tears open your torso, removes your intestines and garlands you with it.)

Also Read | ‘Rocky’ actor Vasanth Ravi speaks on the revenge drama

Vasanth Ravi delivers a fine performance. Rocky is a bit of an enigmatic character. He contemplates a lot, like a poet, about time, life, and fate. He wants to get away from violence after serving a 17-year sentence (so much so that he has even given up meat because it involves the violent taking away of an animal’s life). But when provoked, he will cut your tongue and smash your head with a hammer. Vasanth’s brooding, cold eyes, scraggly beard, and quiet demeanour lend this enigmatic quality to Rocky.

Bharathiraja as Manimaran is brilliant as well. He was great as the villain in Aayutha Ezhuthu. But his performance is a tad bit better in Rocky. Manimaran is driven by vengeance but does not let rage cloud his thinking. Bharathiraja, with his baritone and self-assured presence, conveys that he is not a man you want to mess with. Reena Ravi (as Amudha), Rohini (as Malli), and the other supporting characters have done a fine job, too.

Revenge drama has existed for generations in Tamil cinema. There are scores of good and bad ones. But Rocky will probably be among the best, because it is spectacularly bloody and poetic at the same time.

Rocky is currently playing in theatres.

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