A leader who is a law unto himself and a saviour of the masses is shunned by the police. His dynasty is one that’s built over blood and sweat, mostly the former. An opposition don wants to finish him off to gain supremacy. Director A.L. Vijay attempts to pay homage to a number of landmark films — Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan and Thalapathy, Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar and to a small extent Bharatan’s Thevar Magan — all of which can be traced back to the Godfather series. In the opening credits, the director faithfully thanks all these filmmakers.

Since we aren’t new to this genre, it’s easy to predict the story line of Anna (the dubbed version of Thalaivaa). A bloody battle with a rival gang and a change of power equation warrants Sathyaraj to take over the mantle. He sends his little son away with Nasser to Australia, shielding him from the murky ways of Mumbai. Vishwa (Vijay) grows up with Nasser’s son (Santhanam) in Sydney. Dance is his passion and he earns his livelihood with a small business of supplying packaged water. Vishwa falls in love with Amala Paul, daughter of a restaurateur (actor Suresh), who joins his dance troupe. The trio comes to Mumbai to meet Sathyaraj and formalise the wedding. Things go awry and Vishwa decides to step into his father’s shoes.

The biggest asset to this film is its actors. Both Sathyaraj and Vijay are impressive, the former speaking through his eyes and coming up with a commendable performance. Not a surprise at all considering the impressive body of work Sathyaraj has to his credit. Sathyaraj himself has played the diabolical kingpin way back in 1985, in Mani Ratnam’s Pagal Nilavu.

The director leverages on Vijay’s strengths, first as a dancer and then as an actor. The dance rehearsal featuring Vijay and Amala Paul, who is still nursing her hairline fracture, is a beautiful sequence enhanced by G.V. Prakash’s music and Nirav Shah’s cinematography. But one wished the director had trimmed a few scenes. It takes a long time before the main plot takes over.

Once Vijay returns to Mumbai, all that remains is turf war that’s played out to over 90 minutes. The film’s run time, a little over three hours, is a huge drawback. You don’t need too many examples to establish people’s faith in a new leader, do you? A couple of twists, in the pre-interval and climax portions, save the film from becoming boring.

G.V. Prakash impresses in a few songs but it’s the background score where he shines. Nirav Shah’s cinematography is apt for the film’s setting. In the pre-interval sequence, notice how the camera stays on Vijay and still conveys the impact of what’s unfolding on the other side.

Amala Paul and Suresh try to make a mark in the short roles given to them. Santhanam manages to bring the house down quite a few times.

There are a number of things to like about this film — performances, music and cinematography in particular. The story, though, is rehashed from old hits and the execution is far from satisfying. This is neither an action drama nor a mass masala. It’s somewhere in between. A few moments keep you at the edge of your seat, like the one where both Vijay and Abhimanyu Singh track down a video footage from a pick pocket. And there are moments of utter déjà vu.

Anna would have made for a crackling watch if only it had been shorter by 30 to 40 minutes.

ANNA

Cast: Vijay, Amala Paul, Sathyaraj and Santhanam

Direction: A.L. Vijay

Music: G.V. Prakash Kumar

Story line: A son steps into his father’s shoes, has to win a bloody war before he becomes the leader.

Bottom line: A lengthy tribute to cult mafia films.