Home Movies Movie Reviews Kill Review: The Best Action Movie of the Year, (Bloody) Hands Down

Kill Review: The Best Action Movie of the Year, (Bloody) Hands Down

Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat melds the heightened emotions of Bollywood romance with the tragic brutality of Korean revenge thrillers and the furious fight choreography of Indonesian action movies.

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Kill lives up to its title and then some, delivering a practically relentless spectacle of brutal, bloody, bone-crunching violence. I breathed a sigh of relief when the credits rolled and my heart rate was allowed to go back down to normal. Make no mistake, Kill is a visceral, emotionally draining watch that’s a real treat for action fans but not for the faint of heart.

Writer-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat knows what he’s doing from start to finish, taking the audience on a rollercoaster ride of rabid retribution. Towards the end of this film, I saw Our Hero kill a man in a way I had somehow never seen an action hero kill anyone before, a way that had me uncontrollably exclaiming, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” and putting my hand to my forehead in disbelief at what I was seeing.

But the movie begins as a romance! We’re introduced to army commandos Amrit and Viresh as they return from an unspecified mission, and Amrit discovers that his girlfriend, Tulika, has become engaged to someone else per her father’s wishes. He immediately goes to whisk her away, but she’s afraid to defy her powerful father. This is not an uncommon plot in Bollywood films, but Bhat resists saccharine sentimentality in favor of a more genuine cuteness. Thanks to Lakshya’s and Tanya Maniktala’s endearing performances, we very quickly root for this lovey-dovey couple.

Similarly, we also buy the camaraderie between Amrit and Viresh (Abhishek Chauhan), whom the subtitles like to address as “bro” over and over to emphasize that they’re bros even though Amrit is simply calling him by his name, affectionately. It’s important to establish who Amrit cares about—and who they care about—because he’s about to take the worst train ride of his life.

Amrit simply wants to take a big romantic swing as his girlfriend travels to Delhi with her family to see her betrothed. Unbeknownst to him but known to us, a band of thieves is planning to rob this train. Bhat draws out the tension before the robbery goes into action, and once it does, Amrit and Viresh spring into action to protect their fellow passengers. They’re soldiers! It’s their duty! And they’re good at violence. They fight well as a two-man army, and the action scenes are pretty cool, though they don’t seem worthy of the hype the film has been getting.

In the early scenes of the film, I made a stray observation that I hadn’t seen the title yet, but I forgot it once I got absorbed in what was going on. I don’t know that anything can possibly top Hundreds of Beavers for Best Late Title Card Drop of 2024, but Kill makes a very strong play for that award because goddamn. When Bhat deploys that title card, it’s more than the name of the movie, it’s a searing command, a four-letter encapsulation of what you want to see Amrit do a LOT for the rest of the movie, and DO IT HE DOES.

Because it turns out you weren’t even watching the movie. You were watching the prologue to the movie. Suddenly the action goes from 8 to 28 as Amrit transforms from badass soldier to DEMON FROM HELL. (I described him like that in my head even before I got to the part where HE DISPLAYED HIS KILLS LIKE JASON FUCKING VOORHEES.)

Indian films are designed to have intervals to provide a break in the narrative, and when well executed, they can deliver a uniquely thrilling experience that Western cinema cannot offer. I always love to see how a film will choose to go out on its interval card, after which the film is meant to truly have an interval so the audience can process and reflect and get re-energized for the second half of the film, which usually goes in a new direction but carries over all of the emotional weight of the first half. In Kill, this late title card drop replicates the interval but provides absolutely no break as it barrels forward into murderous mayhem, fueled by the emotional weight of the first half. It’s a brilliant subversion of the traditional narrative structure.

For the rest of the film, Bhat channels Korean revenge thrillers and Indonesian action movies as Amrit goes on an all-out rampage on this train, and my heart didn’t stop pounding for an hour. Action directors Se-yeong Oh—who’s worked on several Park Chan-wook movies including the train-set Snowpiercer—and Parvez Sheikh, who have choreographed the ludicrously entertaining action in War and Tiger 3, dial up the intensity, giving Lakshya, the rest of the cast, and the stunt team a variety of close-quarters combat situations that force them to fight with knives, fire extinguishers, toilets, knives, curtains, fists, knives, and knives. Did I say knives? This is a very stabby movie. And Amrit loves shoving things into people’s mouths, which filled me with glee every time. There’s also a whole lot of bashing. On both sides, to be clear! Amrit gets the shit kicked out of him in this movie; he is no invincible action hero.

Multiple times, this movie made me cringe because the violence was so wonderfully excessive. Bhat may twist the knife emotionally, but Amrit does it literally. Cinematographer Rafey Mehmood shoots these fights very claustrophobically, emphasizing how very little space they have to maneuver, and despite his name, editor Shivkumar V. Panicker cuts them precisely, choosing among a variety of angles to keep us forced in tight confines while showing us each blow. While it would have been impressive if they had been able to do longer takes—The Raid 2 managed fluid camera movement in the prison bathroom fight by building a bathroom set with removable walls, for instance—I appreciated what they could do with the physical limitations of shooting in that space, and the editing certainly doesn’t diminish the impact of the violence.

On the other hand, I found the geography of the train cars confusing. Even though the film clearly explains the four specific train cars the action takes place in and ensures you can see the designation of the car in the background, I started to lose track of who was in which car even though I thought I had a handle of what order the cars were in and when people moved from car to car. Some people make their way on top of the train, but I could swear people were just teleporting to different cars at times.

It may have been an intentional choice to cast similar-looking actors for the patriarchs of the bandits and Tulika’s family and then dress them similarly, but it made it hard to immediately know what car we were in, especially since they were usually on opposite sides of the train. Thankfully, that confusion didn’t lead to any critical issues in understanding what was happening since the action moved swiftly enough that no one stayed in the same place for too long.

What truly sets Kill apart from so many other action movies beyond its train setting and ultraviolence is how it treats its antagonists. In most action movies, the action hero mows down nameless henchmen, and we feel nothing about their deaths. Here, however, the fortysomething thieves aboard this train are all FAMILY. That’s right, if this were a Fast and Furious movie, they would be the heroes! Except I mean they are literally family, as extended family are much closer in Indian culture than they usually are in American culture, which makes me very curious how the American remake will handle this very important aspect of the film.

Every person Amrit kills is someone’s father, uncle, or brother, and the bandits express genuine anguish over their deaths. There’s an uncomfortable tension in our emotional response since they’re clearly the bad guys…but we feel bad for them? The film certainly revels in the brutality of its violence and wants to entertain the audience. It’s giving us what we want, but it also makes us feel bad for wanting this violence to befall anyone.

When bandit leader Fani (Raghav Juyal, who makes a great sociopath) calls Amrit a rakshasa for saying, “An eye for an eye? Nah, how about ten eyes for an eye,” he makes a valid point, although I’m not sure the film definitively makes a statement condemning him for his actions, wanting to have it both ways, portraying his anger as both righteous and dangerous. It’s hard for us to know how to feel too, since even though a lot more bad guys die than good guys, the casualties on the good side really fucking hurt.

Kill takes the audience on a hell of a journey, and versatile composer Shashwat Sachdev adapts to the shifting tones and moods throughout the film with diverse instrumentation. Whether it’s the soaring orchestra of swoony romance, the pulsating electronic beats and gunshot samples of badass action, or the sweeping strings of moral tragedy, Sachdev’s aural palette complements what’s onscreen beautifully. Bhat and his team have crafted a monstrously good bad time here, and it’s going to be tough to beat for best action movie of the year.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Kill Review: The Best Action Movie of the Year, (Bloody) Hands Down
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Sunil Patel consumes narrative the way he consumes nachos: with reckless abandon and guacamole. Books, comics, songs, TV, movies, podcasts, you name it, he just wants to be told a good story. And write one! He once sold a 985-word kale joke to Asimov's Science Fiction. When he’s not watching and reviewing hundreds of movies a year, he’s writing, acting, and directing with San Francisco Bay Area sketch comedy group Quicksand Club. He lives in Oakland with his Blu-ray of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Read his work and discover his secret origins at ghostwritingcow.com
kill-review-the-best-action-movie-of-the-year-bloody-hands-downWriter-director Nikhil Nagesh Bhat melds the heightened emotions of Bollywood romance with the tragic brutality of Korean revenge thrillers and the furious fight choreography of Indonesian action movies.

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