Pathu Thala Review | Action Padded

by Andrew Parker

Overlong and familiar in tone, the Tamil Language gangster picture Pathu Thala is passable entertainment, but nothing terribly exciting. Boasting a decent amount of production value, some well choreographed action sequences, solid performances, and a memorable score from musical royalty A.R. Rahman, Pathu Thala has all the elements for genre movie greatness, but not a decent, believable story to go along with it.

Undercover cop Sakthivel (Gautham Karthilk) has been tasked with infiltrating the most notorious gang in all of Tamilnadu, run by the ruthless and feared AG Raavanan, better known as AGR (Silambarasan). Amid a backdrop of societal unrest tied to protests against illegal sand mining and a local vaccination program that might be covering for something far more nefarious, AGR and his crew have been accused of kidnapping a top ranking government official. Despite something being off about the disappearance of the politician (his own party doesn’t seem in much of a hurry to get this guy back), Sakthivel, going by the undercover name Guna, works his way up through AGR’s ranks to get closer to the truth.

Plots revolving around undercover cops who realize their intended target is more benevolent and complicated than they originally thought are a dime a dozen these days, especially in South Asian cinema, which makes it no surprise that writer-director Obeli N. Krishna’s Pathu Thala is a remake of the 2017 Kannada language film, Mufti. Even those unfamiliar with the source material will have the unshakable feeling that they’ve seen Pathu Thala somewhere before, and Krishna plays everything in a relatively straightforward manner here.

There are some musical numbers, most of them used as repeating motifs, and not a ton of them are memorable, but Rahman’s overall score – which seems reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and Goblin this time out – is outstanding. Rahman’s work is almost enough to distract from the fact that Pathu Thala doesn’t have much of anything new to say or do, and it often papers over a lot of the film’s overly convoluted political swerves and subplots.

The underworld maneuvering of Sakthivel has a slickness to it, and AGR has a nice blend of swagger, charity, and ruthlessness to him. Karthik and Silmbarasan make for well paired adversaries, even if the latter doesn’t show up until over an hour into the movie. Karthik has a natural coolness, and Silmbarasan nicely balances the saviour and monster sides of his character’s personality. Anything involving their relationship or personal dealings is quite engaging. But once Krishna pivots to a half-baked subplot involving AGR’s main political rival (Gautham Vasudev Menon) or an over-zealous tax collector (Priya Bhavani Shankar, in a really thankless but well acted role) with huge ambitions and past ties to Guna, Pathu Thala slows to a virtual crawl for short bursts at a time. For the most part, the film moves along really well, but once the obvious padding comes into play Pathu Thala flatlines. 

Those hoping for another action packed Indian blockbuster might also be disappointed with the fact that there isn’t a ton of it until the latter stages of the film. There are several outbursts of gory, blood splattering violence (some of it almost too mean spirited and out of character with the film’s message to be very entertaining), and it isn’t particularly mind-blowing on a visual level thanks to some murky cinematography, but there’s a lot of it and the overall staging of the action beats is well thought out and executed.

When Pathu Thala works, it works well, but there are too many ill fitting pieces competing for space in Krishna’s film, and none of them come together in a satisfying manner. By the time Pathu Thala reaches its giant set piece conclusion, it becomes clear that the film is going to ask the viewer to believe in a gambit so ludicrous that not only would no one buy into it, but one that also betrays pretty much everything that came before it. Like much of this, it’s passively engaging, but if you think about it for even a split second, Pathu Thala loses a great deal of its appeal.

Pathu Thala is now playing in select cities, including in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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