Gautham Ramachandran's Richie begins with the visual of a game of seven stones. What happens one day when the game spirals out of control and life changes forever for two boys, in a moment of rage and ensuing confusion?
The game is a metaphor for how things pan out for the characters in the film. There's one group which is always trying to build (their dreams, their lives), and another trying to bring it all crashing down.
The film is conscious that it's a launch vehicle of sorts for its star, despite his existent fanbase in the state. So, Nivin Pauly gets a "mass" hero introduction. We're told what sort of man he is (above all, he's stylish), before he makes a swashbuckling appearance, sporting a holster and shades.
Other than the 'Welcome to Tamil Cinema' scrawled on the wall, in the middle of peeling posters of blockbuster Tamil films, Nivin pays homage to the two senior superstars of Kollywood, finding a place for himself in the hierarchy. He dances for Annatha Adrurar (Kamal's Aboorva Sagotharkal) and Kaatu Kuyile (Rajini's Thalapathy) – making a politically correct entry into the Tamil film industry, if anything.
With the black shirt and beard that made his fans swoon in Premam, Nivin seems to have had fun playing the puli-dancing, paan-spitting Richie, but somehow, one gets the sense that the actor has been under-utilised. And this is not just about the screen-time. It's excellent that in a launch film, the actor has not insisted on hogging every frame, but you do wish you got to know more about Richie than his tendency to hide his emotions behind his dark glasses.
You get a glimpse of his difficult past, the pain he feels when he's rejected by his father (a church Father always dressed in white, in contrast to Richie), but the director pulls short of allowing the audience to sink their teeth into the story. There simply aren't enough of these scenes to make us invested in Richie. The actor has worked hard on his dubbing but a bit of self-consciousness has made him rush through his Tamil lines.
Gautham seems to have been carried away with incorporating stylised elements in the frames and neglected the people who make the scene. For instance, Richie grows up in a juvenile home in Manapad but the adult Richie's stories (Dash and Dash Dash, the Cuban Kid) seem incongruous with his background. There's a certain forced urbane sophistication to the 'local' character that doesn't make us suspend disbelief and buy him entirely.
Shraddha Srinath plays a dignified journalist (her boss is named after the director – Gautham Ramachandran) with a link to Richie's past. Then there's Kaka Peter (nitpicking, but the Tamil word 'kaaka' has an 'ik' in the middle), his sister Philomina (Lakshmi Priyaa), Selvam (Natarajan), Raghu (Raj Bharath), Father Sagayam (Prakash Raj), and Isaac (a don-type who controls the port) – all of them are connected by a statue. Now you keep waiting for a big reveal about this statue, other than the legend that's narrated about it at the beginning, but it never comes. We get the symbolism but it's disappointing nevertheless.
Ajaneesh's background score drives the film forward, trying to keep up the tempo even as the film slackens and falls into predictability. There's always something going on in the frames, with the tint changing according to chronology and the mood of the scene, but at times, one feels the experiment is overdone.
Richie is a Biblical parable turned on its head. The prodigal son, always dressed in black, and the morally upright father, always dressed in white, aren't what they seem at first glance. It's an interesting premise to play with within the neo noir genre, but the film leaves you wanting more. The miracle of more meat to the plot perhaps?
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.