‘Captain Miller’ movie review: A fantastic Dhanush spearheads Arun Matheswaran’s mostly-engaging actioner

Despite a few shortcomings, ‘Captain Miller’ is a huge step up for Arun Matheswaran — whose style and socio-political takes need more praise — and is yet another feather to Dhanush’s much-adorned cap

January 12, 2024 06:08 pm | Updated 07:08 pm IST

A still from ‘Captain Miller’

A still from ‘Captain Miller’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Dhanush the actor has come a long way; if his first decade in cinema personified him as the poster boy for the meandering youth who is found to be a menace even by his family, the previous decade is when he has gotten the space to truly spread his wings and build a portfolio to showcase the talent powerhouse he is. In a meta manner, it also happens to be his character arc in Arun Matheswaran’s Captain Miller, which happens to be the story of a small-town guy’s dreams of joining the British military of the pre-independence era, only to realise that the gun he has to wield must point at his own people.

Director Arun Matheswaran’s first two films, Rocky and Saani Kaayidham, might superficially look like gloriously-violent revenge flicks, but both the films question the so-called hierarchy with the latter not holding back on its portrayal of caste discrimination. In Captain Miller, despite action speaking louder than words, the underlying message it tries to convey is more pronounced and despite all the bloodshed, it’s also ironically Arun’s least violent film.

Over the last several decades, we have had hundreds of films set in the Independence movement, but almost all of them focused on the efforts of real and fictional revolutionary leaders against the colonialists. But in Captain Miller, our titular hero points out how his tribe had been stepped over by the privileged upper caste and how it’s worse than being governed by the British. In one of several brilliant scenes featuring a frazzled Analeesan (Dhanush), he talks of how the Savarnas never let his people slip on a pair of footwear but the British are giving him boots; how his own countrymen’s prejudice doesn’t allow him to enter a temple but the white folks are ready to share the table and break bread with him.

Captain Miller (Tamil)
Director: Arun Matheswaran
Cast: Dhanush, Shiva Rajkumar, Priyanka Arul Mohan, Sundeep Kishan, Nivedhithaa Sathish
Runtime: 158 minutes
Storyline: A soldier turns revolutionist to save his people’s lives and more

Akin to Arun Matheswaran’s previous protagonists, Analeesan’s road to success is a pathos-paved one that moulders him from the inside. If it was the loss of their family for Rocky and Ponni (Saani Kaayidham), it’s the blood of hundreds of his own people — including that of his kin and the husband of his unrequited love — which fuels Analeesan’s passion for retribution and lends a sense of poignancy to his bloody journey. In a world where he has to either become a British soldier to gain the respect every human is supposed to naturally get, or turn rebel and grab that respect in the form of fear, fate lets him do both. It’s the same fate that transforms a perplexed Analeesan into the rightfully obstinate Captain Miller.

A still from ‘Captain Miller’

A still from ‘Captain Miller’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Adding to the similarities from his previous works, Arun sticks to a non-linear narrative compartmentalised into chapters; it works wonderfully. It almost masks the otherwise straightforward story of a rebel and trades depth for convenient yet gratifying theatrical moments. Though the plot of Captain Miller is not as simple, and the underlying themes and lore (with a pinch of real events), are certainly interesting, it doesn’t take away the predictability of it. Amidst the blazing guns, charred bodies, splattered blood and the one-man army wreaking havoc, the story of a hidden secret — a MacGuffin for us, a sacrosanct remnant of a prejudiced past for Miller’s people — make for the most intriguing parts of the film and leaves us wishing that it was explored more. The fact that the film also doesn’t linger in its moments leads to us feeling distant from the happenings, and not perturbed by the unfolding melancholic events.

What would have otherwise turned into a one-dimensional role in the hands of an unseasoned artist, becomes a blank canvas for Dhanush to showcase his acting prowess and he delivers. As his character rises in the ranks from being a heartbroken youngster who turns into a dejected trooper, and then from a notorious bandit to a revolutionist, Dhanush aces every segment of Analeesan’s transformation. Add to it a fantastic supporting cast featuring Priyanka Arul Mohan, Sundeep Kishan, Elango Kumaravel and Nivedhithaa Sathish alongside Shiva Rajkumar exuding the same ‘mass’ he did with Jailer, and Captain Miller has one of the best actor ensembles we have seen in recent times. The film’s wonderful portrayal of its female characters gathers momentum as time progresses. Siddhartha Nuni’s brilliant cinematography and GV Prakash’s music, with which he retains his fantastic streak with Dhanush, add great value to Captain Miller; in fact, the visual treatment feels like Arun’s hat-tip to several pillars of world cinema.

Despite a few shortcomings, Captain Miller is a huge step up for its filmmaker — whose style and socio-political takes need more praise — and is yet another feather to Dhanush’s much-adorned cap. Sequel calling?

Captain Miller is currently running in theatres

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