Guns Akimbo: Review

Ever wondered how it feels to be a troll? With the democratization of the internet, everyone tries to get themselves heard betwixt millions of constant screams. Trolls are merely bland usernames, not a thing composed of flesh and blood, right? But did you ever give a thought that there’s a real human on the other end saying what you see on the screen, maybe a thousand miles away? The protagonist of Guns Akimbo is Miles (Daniel Radcliff), a regular millennial with a desk-job, discerns this. Although a humdrum individual in real life, Miles goes full-throttle as his digital alter-ego. The keyboard is his weaponry. The internet is his second life. He atones the arrogance and masculinity he lacks in the real world, on the internet. He proclaims himself, ‘The Troll Hunter’. ‘Two-Face’ would be befitting too. On the professional front, Miles works in a video-game production company under a dominant and muscular boss. The video game itself is meta here. When we are introduced to him, he is continually indulged in his mobile, like us. Let it be while walking on the street or taking a shit, exactly like us. The mobile is glued to his hand, or wait, it is an elongation of his body.

On the social front, Miles has been a bystander all his life and has never tasted popularity. He is one of the thousands of comments under a Youtube video with 100 million views. But when a ‘no-one’ like him comes under the limelight, in a scenario that involves death chasing him, it goes beyond the survival or underdog arc, and punches the entire comments section!

The gizmo that drives the narrative is the shadowy underground online community “Skizm”, run by Riktor (Ned Dennehy), who hand-picks the craziest of the people and pits them against each other to fight till death, while thousands watch, rejoice and get entertained. Miles’ comment war goes too far at a point, and he is forced by Riktor to contend in the deadly life or death combat. He doesn’t have a choice here. The bonus, Miles’ hands are bolted to guns, as he has to kill his opponent, Nix (Samara Weaving), the top-scorer on Skizm. When it’s Nix hounding Miles, it is the death in a human form chasing him. What follows is ceaseless action one set-piece after the other. Considering the swift pace at which the screenplay moves at, the writing does give time to Miles and us to breathe. In one of the best scenes of the film right after a virulent chase, Miles sits down in an alley with a homeless man, (a terrific Rhys Darby, a Kiwi actor & comedian) who sneaks in some cracky wisdom. A minute later, it gets back to the ‘pew’ ‘pew’ mode, which at points is exhaustive.

Miles

Guns Akimbo, akin to Jason Lei Howden’s directorial debut Deathgasm, is a dynamic film that’s high on energy. If Deathgasm reckons with ‘Metal-music’, this piece does with ‘video game’. Such is the treatment of the film, which relies heavily on its visual language. The camera literally goes upside down when Miles’ life does the same. Subtlety is not what the filmmaker aims for. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite that he intends to achieve, and gloriously does it. The colors are exaggerated, the action never complies with realism, and even the street walls are painted with colorful graffitis. Now, just like how graffiti/street art can be considered an expression of anger, the filmmaker himself is doing the same with his stories. Both his films are about lonely people finding a way out of situations they are forced into, and quite notable in this, there is a wave of evident anger on people in general.

You sense that these ‘watchers’ -although they are humans – are lonely and are more interested in others’ lives than their own. The filmmaker accustoms us to a few faces in the watchers, and they are merely caricatures, just like the troll accounts we encounter on various social media platforms. But Miles, for the obvious reason that he is the lead, understands this by the end of the film.

The graphic-novel nature of the film, which is even directly referenced towards the end, works supremely well. Let it be Miles running on the streets with puffy footwear or the ever appearing ammo count of his guns, the amalgamation of the film, graphic novel & video-game is dazzling, to say the least. What the film lacks, though, is the emotional investment, but it’s a true-blue action film where death wafts through every scene, and the protagonist’s head is always the target, so the stakes retain at a higher level for the most part of the film.

The film is engrossing when it is about ‘Will he survive?’, but after answering this, the focus shifts to ‘How?’, and you know he will; the threat level goes down because your brain is accustomed to believe that the man will indeed survive, after dodging two hundred bullets fired at him. Compliance with physics? I’ve forgotten that by then.

Nix

If a blood spattering, bone-breaking action is what you want to feast one, there’s plenty on display. Even if you choose to empathize with Miles, there are abundant aspects of his life and the world that aid to relate to him. Our digital footprint and physical footprint significantly differ. The usernames, profile pictures, and the follower count is of no importance; all of us probably have created an unreal version of ourselves on the internet and continue to live it. Guns Akimbo screams at your face to be the real you, and yes, it’s one efficacious scream.

During the opening monologue, Miles says that this is the story of the worst day of his life. Is it cruel of me to find an innocent man struggling with every aspect of his- from peeing, career, to love-life- extremely entertaining? Am I like one of the ‘watchers’ who take joy in watching others combat death and fail? Maybe I’m. I’m sorry but how do you not laugh at a guy whose hands have guns bolted to them?

Guns Akimbo staggeringly ‘nails’ both compassionate social commentary and dumbfounding action. It is indeed a deadly combo, like Miles and Nix.

Thoughts on Jallikattu – What distinguishes the hunter & the hunted?

Midway in Jallikattu, when a buffalo that escaped the slaughterhouse falls into a deep pit amidst a dense forest, Antony, takes credit for it and claims he has trapped the animal. It is apparent that he is not the one who did it, yet, he tries to take credit for that. Why, though? The answer is obvious – he is human. And, Lilo Jose Pellisary exhibits, if not study, more such traits and the chaotic human nature.

The film begins with the people, whom we’ll be witnessing in the narrative, waking up and opening their eyes. This is followed by a stretch with the hills and a day at the butcher’s shop. Editing is a craft that I’ve always found hard to talk about or even praise. One just cannot call editing of a film ‘good’. Because it is an unseen craft, unlike cinematography or music. 

Tip: If you ever read a review that says ‘Editing is good’ or in most cases – ‘Editing is crisp’; that ain’t an actual critic you are reading. Because editing cannot be simply called ‘good’ or ‘crisp’, it is a way too complicated craft to be described in one word.

The editing of this sequence, in particular, is very much in sync with the film that it looks like a great and peculiar fusion of an artist and music composer coming together to make a music video. With the sound design and editing going hand in hand, the opening sequence of Jallikattu is a reminder of the magic of this Audio-visual art form. And the credit goes to the editing.

Jallikattu, in my own terms, is an incident-based drama. Meaning, the whole film takes place around an event or incident. The incident sets the conflict, brings in the characters and drives the narrative to its endpoint or goal. In this case, as told, the buffalo running away from the slaughterhouse is the incident, and chasing down that buffalo and killing it is the goal. This simple plot adds in layers of subtext that talk about human nature.

Throughout the film, people roam around in hoards; the animal is all by itself. They are aggressive and hot-blooded to kill the animal. But every time they face the animal, the fear it strikes and their eventual failure to tame it is clearly visible. It is the human’s nature to brag about handling an eventuality that they come across and miserably failing to take control of the situation when actually facing it. We all have been there, haven’t we? Civilization is what distinguishes humans and animals, the hunters and the hunted, I believe. But the line that separates the animal and the humans slowly disappears as the narrative moves forward. A character even calls humans- two-legged beasts. This one line sums up the whole film. This even backed up with a physical altercation between two people, which essentially looks like two wild animals fighting. And this altercation happens in a forest, too.

In Jallikattu, the characters do not matter. They are just people, and there are hoards of them. If I had to define the characters, there is an animal, which is the protagonist and the human race, which is, you know what. Because all the humans in the film share the same characteristics, they are identifiable with each other more as a species than on an individual level. From the film’s perspective, they matter only as a species, as individuals, they don’t. The cinematography supports this aspect. There are very pointing the individuals. Very few. I can count the number of closeups I can recall, only two. Most of the shots are wide with dozens and dozens of people.

Jallikattu will make you think how barbaric humans can be, and the music reflects this aspect. When I saw ‘Acapella’ during the opening credits, I was curious. With the film exploring human behaviour, it took me a while to understand the significance of employing this particular style. And it is a very interesting choice. Perhaps, it is the first time I’m seeing in which the music, apart from underlining and elevating the emotion, reflects the themes of the film and talks about what the filmmaker is trying to convey. Brilliant choice.

There is a particular thing I wish they hadn’t done. While the film is something to be experienced and interpreted by the viewers, there is a scene where the ultimate motive of the film is visually conveyed in the very last scene. The film has done a terrific job in doing what it had to. Apart from engaging in the hunt for more than 96 minutes, it spoke a lot. I just wish they had not underlined it and said what they desired to achieve with the narrative. The message is clearly conveyed even with that underline’s exclusion. But if underlining adds value, I don’t mind it. I’m already more than satisfied.

Jallikattu is more than what appears to be. It demands a watch.

Jallikattu is a Malayalam language film by Lilo Jose Pellissery, and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer of the film right here: