When small-time Tamil gangster Suruli (Dhanush) receives an offer to travel to London to help racist crime lord Peter Sprott (James Cosmo) fight a seemingly futile gang war against arms dealer Sivadoss (Joju George), he finds himself seemingly benefiting from his association with Sprott and gaining a new life in Britain, as well as a girlfriend in the recently-widowed Attila (Aishwarya Lekshmi). However, Suruli soon finds himself caught between his partnership with Sprott, who is backing an upcoming anti-immigration bill to be passed in Parliament, and his heritage, when he discovers the true nature of Sivadoss.
Director and writer Subbaraj struggles to manage the twin conflicting tones that the narrative presents, with the stylised action comedy aspects of Suruli’s conflict with Sivadoss and his men clashing awkwardly with the issues concerning refugees and immigration that arise later in the film. This tonal confusion extends to Dhanush’s performance. In particular, his assured essaying of Suruli’s initial carefree nature contrasts noticeably with his less convincing depiction of the character’s more serious moments, such as his third act confrontation with Attila and subsequent internal conflict over his allegiances.
Whilst Subbaraj’s inclusion of thematically relevant issues of racism towards non-European immigrants in Britain and anti-refugee discrimination is to be commended, the ham-fisted and perfunctory way in which they are included only serves to undermine their relevance and effectiveness. For the majority of the film, Subbaraj side-lines these topics in favour of focusing on run of the mill action sequences that occasionally give the impression of a low production budget, as can be seen in a climactic assault on Sprott’s mansion. The combining of multiple subplots also results in the majority of them seeming abbreviated, such as Suruli’s rise to power under Sprott’s leadership. This seems strangely abrupt given the film’s lengthy running time. In addition, the romantic subplot between Suruli and Attila comes across as unconvincing, nott helped by both the lack of chemistry between Dhanush and Lekshmi and as the implausible narrative twist involving Attila that challenges Suruli’s loyalties.
Fortunately, Cosmo and George provide the majority of the film’s highlights, with the latter coming across as effectively intimidating in his scenes with Dhanush. Cosmo is in his element as Sprott, providing a rough-hewn charisma to what could have been a one-dimensional racist villain and making the most of the opportunities the film gives him to go wild, whether that includes bellowing racist invective or wielding a shotgun and machete respectively.
Jagame Thandhiram aims to encompass a range of genres, from action comedy to crime thriller to social issues drama, but instead results in a sprawling jumble that fails to adequately realise any of them. Not even James Cosmo can lift the film to a level above mediocrity.
Available now on Netflix