Wednesday, July 3, 2024

'Kill' (2023) Movie Review

lakshya with a knife at his throat on a train
The Raid on a Blank has become the new Die Hard on a Blank, action movie shorthand wise, and I’m here for every last one. And the easiest way to describe Indian director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s Kill is as The Raid on a Train. That is, of course, reductive and not the whole story, and while awesome, Kill is no Raid. (What is? That’s an unfair comparison.) Still, what follows is a brutal, badass time full of gnarly, head-smashing, bone-snapping violence steeped in sweet melodrama that’s one of the best times at the movies this year. 


Amrit Rathod (Lakshya) is a badass military commando. He’s in love with Tulika (Tanya Maniktala). At the behest of her rich industrialist father, she agrees to become engaged to some goober. But the two lovers decide to meet in New Delhi to run away and be together. That’s all well and good and dramatic. But none of it really matters. What matters is that everyone gets on the same train, and wouldn’t you know it, bunch of bad guys are also on board and intent on robbing the passengers. So, then Amrit and his mustachioed ride-or-die commando bro (I like the term bro-mando), Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan), have to tear-ass their way through a slew of goons, maybe save the day, and if they have a chance, prove to Tulika’s dad that Amrit would make a pretty good husband.


[Related Reading: 'The Raid 2' Movie Review]

lakshya fighting on a train

The action is of course the centerpiece of Kill, and it delivers that in spades. In fact, it’s so omnipresent that many have complained it becomes repetitive, which is not a stance I share. Bhat, cinematographer Rafey Mehmood, and action directors Oh Se-yeong and Parvez Shaikh (a duo notable for their work on War and Tiger 3, among others) make excellent use of the contained, constrained geography full of tight hallways, cramped spaces, various cars, and even, perhaps obviously, some time spent on top of the speeding train. Waves of baddies choke the narrow corridors, bodies pile up, and the heroes must excavate their way forward. (Oh also worked on Snowpiercer, so this is not his first train-car-rodeo.)


Because Kill takes place in a country with actual gun control laws, this opens the action up to all sorts of hand-held weapons. The inventive fight choreography makes use of knives, hammers, cleavers, blades of all stripes, locks on chains, and even a fire extinguisher, among other tools of violence. And that’s beyond the well-trained crew of actors throwing down with fists, knees, elbows, and the rest. All of which is presented in clear, concise shots, smoothly edited, and garnished with visceral, blood-heavy effects.


[Related Reading: 'Russian Raid' Movie Review]

lakshya stabbing a man on a train

While still heavy on the fisticuffs, the first 45 minutes sets the stage with the dreamy romance, balancing that with the action, taking the time to sell the breathless love between Amrit and Tulika. But at the 45-minute mark, the title card finally appears. There’s a running joke amongst action movie enthusiasts that the later the title card drop, the crazier the action, and that holds true here. 


Up to this point, the action has been frantic and plentiful, with occasional pauses for plot and character development. But from here on, the film cranks things up a notch. A few notches, actually. The violence goes from solid-but-familiar to holy-hell-that-was-nasty, including one of the meanest on-screen deaths in recent memory. The light melodrama becomes utter emotional devastation as the script kills off characters you never would guess. The fights take a cumulative toll on the heroes—these are not invincible superhumans and they wind up brutalized in every capacity. At times the film even butts up against horror territory, with some grizzly, haunting imagery.


[Related Reading: 'Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga' Movie Review]

lakshya on a train

The central romance lends stakes to the action, and while it’s breezy and cute, it’s never saccharine or overly bland—or, thankfully, far from a fist fight. Maniktala sells it well, though Lakshya is clearly more comfortable and charismatic when it comes to the high-octane stuff. The real standout, however, is Raghav Juyal as Fani, the main bad guy—he’s not the head criminal, but he’s the primary antagonist in this scenario. He presents as a nonchalant slacker, charming and unaffected, but who slips casually into horrific violence without a moment’s hesitation or a second thought. Basically, an amiable psychopath, and Juyal savors every moment.


For their part, the hordes of goons are more compelling and well-rounded than they have any right to be. For starters, this robbery is a family affair, like blood relatives. There are fathers and sons, cousins, uncles, and sprawling branches of an entire family tree, which lends weight and emotion as they’re mowed down en masse. Some are fueled by a thirst for retribution, while others are like, holy crap, haven’t we lost enough? Can’t we call it a day? It’s an intriguing set up and an unusually nuanced way to look at what could have been a faceless throng of assailants. We also get hints on class conflict and, I suspect, some dynamics that get a bit lost in the cultural translation—there seems to be more at play than what’s immediately clear to an ignorant outsider.


[Related Reading: '578 Magnum' Movie Review]


Kill certainly isn’t without flaws. It is a bit long, the villains’ motivations are nebulous, and, though it didn’t bother me in the slightest, it’s easy to imagine thinking, “really, another hallway fight?” as the movie should move towards its climax. But those are minor nitpicks. For the most part this is high-energy violence; head-burning, kid-stabbing, no-one-is-safe action with enough emotional kick to suck the air out of your lungs from time to time. You know, the sweet stuff action fans crave. (In fact, Kill rules so hard 87Eleven has already signed on for a forthcoming American remake.) [Grade: A]

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