Salute Movie Review: A fairly engrossing, but muddled, thriller
Salute suffers from a lack of clarity in performances and plot developments in a few places
Films about unsolved crimes tormenting their protagonists for a long time provide much excitement and chills. The best examples are The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), Memories of Murder (2003), Zodiac (2007), The Pledge (2001), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher version preferred), L. A Confidential (1997), and, of course, Malayalam cinema's Memories (2013) and Kurup (2021). One or more of the above Hollywood/foreign titles could be a possible inspiration for some ideas in Salute, but, as they say, it's not about where you take it from but where you take it to.
In Kurup, Dulquer played an elusive killer; in Salute, he chases a similarly shadowy figure. But is the whereabouts and identity of the antagonist more important than doing the right thing? The film looks for answers to both while leaning more towards the latter problem. This idea -- of a cop bothered by his conscience becoming a threat to his fellow officers -- was a staple of two great Sidney Lumet films, Serpico and Prince of the City. For a good while, Salute traverses the same territory. In the past, Aravind Karunakaran (Dulquer Salmaan) had to go along with a disagreeable evidence-planting exercise executed by his seniors. What makes things more complicated is his elder brother Ajith Karunakaran (Manoj K Jayan) being part of them. They have reasons to justify their actions.
Director: Rosshan Andrrews
Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Manoj K Jayan, Diana Penty
Streaming on: SonyLIV
In one scene, Ajith tells Aravind that they once had to see a genuine culprit go scot-free due to insufficient evidence. They don't want to repeat the same thing. Years of service have taught them that it's best to do things their way, something an idealistic Aravind can't digest. But he is forced to swallow the bitter pill whose side effects worsen years later. Finding this mysterious man is necessary for Aravind because the suffering of an innocent man and his solitary sister keeps clawing at him. Aravind is like that student who got poor marks in his internals but wants to ace the finals with a distinction. Salute uses Aravind's dilemma and his fellow officers' concerns to generate a sufficient amount of menace, with ample assistance from Jakes Bejoy's ominous score.
Is Salute a whistleblower drama, a murder mystery, or a redemption story? I'll leave you, the reader, to find these answers on your own instead of running the risk of giving crucial plot points away.
But it would be safe to say that this is not a film where you see Aravind get drunk and indulge in self-destructive behaviour. Salute neither wants to be Jeetu Joseph's Memories nor another Rosshan Andrrews-Bobby-Sanjay film, Mumbai Police. Salute is a film where Dulquer acts and behaves like... Dulquer. I see that as a positive and negative. The positive: There are moments where Dulquer's face effectively conveys Aravind's embarrassment, disillusionment, and determination. The negative: I don't see any noticeable differences between the Dulquer in Kurup and the Dulquer in Salute. I expected to see more guilt from a guy who became a party to an act of injustice.
Also, what's the deal with Manoj K Jayan's casting? In Salute, he seems like a guy who came prepared for a comedy but was told at the last minute that he assumed wrong. I couldn't tell if this attempt at levity was deliberate, but when everything and everyone else around him maintains an air of grimness, Ajith stands out like a sore thumb. I also found the Aravind-Ajith dynamics confusing. There were several places where I forgot they were brothers. If not for Aravind's occasional verbal declarations of his admiration for his brother, I wouldn't have guessed. Also, what's so admirable about him? It is one of the reasons why I found the film's penultimate portions confusing. Everything was going fine -- despite minor hiccups -- up until that point.
And making matters worse is a supposed-to-be haunting ending that gives mixed signals owing to the stupefying reactions of Aravind to the newfound revelation. This subversive development may have sounded good on paper, but the execution had me going, "The what now?"
Salute is not one of those films one should attempt to review immediately after seeing it. There is no doubt about its ability to engage one's attention -- of course, personal experiences may vary -- but I also remember being left with conflicted feelings in a few places. I chalk it up to the film's shape-shifting nature, not in a good way, I'm afraid. It's been hours since I saw it, and I'm still unsure if I understood the film's true intentions. One thing I'm very sure of is sitting through its 143-min runtime without pausing even once. But this feeling of something missing from it continues to nag. It's a pity because the film has many interesting ideas, some familiar, some not. But I should give it credit for not boring me. Perhaps a revisit would offer more clarification.