A couple times a year, a film comes along, seemingly out of nowhere, and proceeds to unexpectedly tear the roof off theaters, and Lijo Jose Pellissery's Jallikattu easily runs away with that distinction in 2019. His 91-minute disaster epic is so well-executed, it deserves to be seen by as many eyeballs as possible. It's just that good. Presenting a world of contained chaos that's achingly beautiful to behold, it blazes a path straight to hell.
In a small village in India, the day-to-day routine is both monotonous and calming. Pellissery uses quick montages to initially introduce a dozen characters—some of them pivotal to the proceedings and others who will get caught up in the rush that follows. A steady rhythm sets up the local hierarchy and standings of focal figures. Chief among them is the local butcher, a man who takes pride in the quality & importance of his work. That is until one morning when one of his employees holds a rope to slack, unleashing a rampaging buffalo through the poverty stricken area. The community rallies together large swaths of the population to stop the beast from destroying everything they hold dear. And that's the film. Or so it would appear, at first.
What makes Jallikattu so mesmerizing and intoxicating is Pellissery's ability to take a rather basic plot (based on a story by S. Hareesh, who co-wrote the screenplay with R. Jayakumar) and keep things rolling steadily. The pace is relentless without ever feeling overly frantic or confusing. It also helps that he creates deep and weaving relationships throughout the village's citizens. Surprisingly, there's a healthy dose of levity intertwining the film’s events. It's a welcome tactic to keep things chugging along. Then again, this is a film made all the better by making unexpected choices.
As pervasive as the buffalo's reign of terror is, it is but one of the problems the village must contend with. There's a band of men from the neighboring town who constantly get in the way. The police are busy dealing with politics and crowds slowly becoming unruly. There’s a feud between a butcher's apprentice and a man run out of town. Not to mention the "enlightened" medicinal gardener who wanders through fields of red tape, hoping in vein to stay calm as everything around them falls apart. As the hours turn to days of hunting, the townspeople start to turn on each other. Factions are formed out of personal vengeance, heroism, and greed. As the latter begins to drive the desperate mob, the film takes on darker, more horrific overtones.
There's a frenzied sense of joy in seeing both the destruction and lengths that are gone to here. Screen time is understandably limited, yet the effects left by the buffalo are a sight to behold. It destroys food stands, sets bales of hay on fire, and launches countless bodies into the air. The cinematography by Gireesh Gangadharan is mesmerizing, too, and so much is happening on screen, that the fidelity at which it unfolds seems almost impossible to frame, but the crescendo it all builds to is masterful.
Jallikattu is a brilliant assault on the senses. A blistering action thrill ride that starts at a fever pitch and never backs down, even past its insane finale, Jallikattu is sure to stay with the majority of viewers for days afterwards.
Movie Score: 4.5/5
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