Director Santhakumar's second film, Magamuni, opens in a similar vein of his 2011 crime thriller, Mounaguru, where a prelude about the film's major plotpoint is shown as a montage. Similarly, Magamuni carries a lot of motifs that belonged to the latter. There is a case of an double-cross, a corrupt cop and so on, but the film uses them to tell a dark, meditative tale of crime and survival.
Magamuni revolves around the tale of Magadevan and Muniraj (both characters played by Arya), who share nothing in common other than the fact they look similar. Maga is a cab driver cum dagger-slinging hitman specializes in designing 'sketches' for the hits he does for Muthuraj (Ilavarasu), whereas Muni is a saintly tutor who battles caste oppression as he befriends a journalism student (played by Mahima Nambiar) . The unexpected turns and conflicts that leads to the two crossing paths with each other forms the rest of the film.
Magamuni's narrative gives more space to the arcs of every minute character in the film. The first half is devoted to a collection of setups that play in a non-linear fashion. There are some notable moments of segue, where the shuttle between Maga and Muni's life happens in a seamless manner. The characters' thought process is portrayed in an elaborate manner, where the setups are less dependant on plot.
But in the quest of fleshing out such intricate character arcs, the film faces some minor pacing issues that might be a cause of concern for lovers of commercial cinema. But the build towards the interval twist evolves consistently. The usage of double cross isn't used in a throwaway fashion. The narrative builds a convincing case for that. By the end of the first half, Maga gets stabbed in the back, literally and figuratively.
As a result, he second half unfolds as a thrilling cat and mouse game. The film gets a complete tonal facelift when the double-crosses and the deceit involved in every character's actions (except Muni, who appears to be the purest soul of the film) leads to some tense moments. One such instance is the scene where Maga gets away from police custody, only to end up battered in a goods train. The two strands of Maga and Muni's narratives blend cohesively.
Santhakumar reserves the shock of violence to the film's gory aftermath. Despite having ample spaces for action, the film shows more interest in the comeuppance of such acts. These minor flourishes add more shades to the tonality of Magamuni. Despite carrying the signs of a pulpy thriller, Magamuni decides to be a deep, meditative exploration of human psyche that strongly relies on the unpredictable mechanics of human mind for plot twists. The dialogue aids well at providing some self-reflective, character revealing moments with philosophical monologues.
Magamuni is powered by its ensemble performances. Arya's grounded portrayal of Maga and Muni beautifully reflects the sombre nature of the film, while Indhuja as Maga's wife, Viji, effectively combines the ditzy nature with fraility of her role (a standout example is the scene where she realizes that Maga is wounded). Mahima Nambiar puts out a spirited act. The visuals convey the tonal shift of the film on a subconscious level. The well-lit exteriors of Muni's scenario is in contrast with the harsh shadows of Maga's shady life. Thaman's rumbling background score heightens the film's tension at many places.
Towards the end, the visuals become more noir-like, with the blacks and shadows occupying more depth within the frames (Cinematography is by Arun Bathmanabhan). A major drawback is that the film does have from a loose end. Despite showcasing an unflinching eye for detail and exposition, the writing misses to explain the reason behind a character ending up in an asylum for the mentally underdeveloped. Overall, Magamuni is a deeply affecting film that presents a unique vision on violence and revenge.
Verdict: Magamuni is a slow burning crime drama with consistently gripping screenplay. Don't miss!