Dir.: Anurag Kashyap; Cast: Rahul Bhat, Sunny Leone, KK Gautlam, Megha Burman, Benedict Garrett; India 2023, 142 min.
Best known for his epic Gangs of Wasseypur, Anurag Kashyap is back with his latest, a neo-giallo thriller that unites him with Rahul Bhat who starred in his kidnapping drama Ugly in 2013,
Kennedy is more or less a killing spree that follows an insomniac ex-cop still operating in a corrupt underworld. The film has been mostly shot during the night on Mumbai streets, over a period of 30 days and sees the titular character morphing into another person while still doing the dirty work for the corrupt Police commissioner in Mumbai.
Kennedy (Bhat) moves around without a fixed address, making it difficult for his old superiors to control him. One of his favourite places is a luxury hotel in the city, where he meets the equally enigmatic Charlie (Leone), whose alliances are not very clear – like with most characters. One exception, a senior clerk in the government, pays for his anti-corruption with his life – and so does his whole family.
There is a McGuffin, with Kashyap trying to confuse the issues even further; intertitles announce a countdown to the big night where all will be revealed. But the killing goes on, often to classical Viennese music (courtesy of the Prague Philharmonic choir) and this gives the scenes – with bodies flung all over the place – a distinct surreal feeling, elevating it from mainstream thrillers.
Kennedy seems to soften as the film wears on, making contact with his daughter on the net. But whether this spells redemption for his nefarious ways is never quite made clear – or if we are in for a Kennedy ‘Mark Two’. The bloody mayhem is commented on by a London News reporter (Garrett), who keeps the audience on board with the action – a very much needed intermediary.
Kashyap is a fan of neo-noir author Patrick Manchette and the late French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, both influences leading to a ambivalent hero status for Kennedy, who seems to be happy to kill, only regretting his actions moments later. Obviously this is down to a split personality, allowing him to be effective as a killer, and very withdrawn when left to his own devices. There is a false bravado about him, particularly when dealing with women like Charlie.
DoP Sylvester Fonseca must take credit for the success of this revenge thriller, set in artificial, claustrophobic interiors – often hotel rooms – trapping the victims like animals. Fonseca and Kashyap also remain on target for most kills in one sequence, their relentless pace leaving us breathless. These repeated nightmares merge into each other, leaving very little room for reflection. But Kennedy still manages to tell a story – however warped and ambiguous.
The eye-candy, if you can call it that – is just right for a Midnight screening at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Kashyap’s feature is the only Indian film in the programme.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | MIDNIGHT SCREENING 2023