Joseph Review: A brilliantly written, stirring investigation drama
The film is powered by a convincingly real, powerful portrayal from Joju George
M Padmakumar's latest film is essentially two films rolled into one. A character study in the first half and an investigation drama in the second, Joseph is anchored by Joju George's convincingly real, powerful portrayal of a retired police officer battered by his past. The actor undergoes an incredible transformation that makes him worthy of sharing the pedestal occupied by some of the top names in the industry.
I only came to know recently that retired police officers are at times called to the scene of a crime to help solve it. These men, armed with a wealth of expertise accumulated over the years, may get the job done before the day is through. Joseph, the titular protagonist, is one such man. He is a relic haunted by his memories and demons, but still in full possession of his faculties.
Unlike the cops we see usually in other Indian films, he doesn't get a fancy entry scene. When we first see him, he is leading a reclusive existence, in a house littered with cigarette butts and earbuds. And in one corner are uncleared liquor bottles. It's like that scene in The Aviator where DiCaprio locks himself in his studio for many days. It also reminded me of that scene in Heat when Al Pacino's wife tells him that he lives among dead people. But some evenings are spent in the company of his non-retired police buddies.
Just to give you an idea of his superior deductive skills, Joseph is called to check on a double murder at the beginning of the film. When he arrives at the place, we can see that everyone is waiting for him and this makes him sort of like a celebrity. But the minute he steps in and starts doing his thing, that aura slowly dissipates and he becomes just another random figure. As expected, he solves the murders immediately. This case will have nothing to do with the rest of the film. The biggest -- and possibly final -- case of his life is right around the corner.
When his ex-wife meets with a life-threatening accident, which is brought to his attention by her current husband Peter (Dileesh Pothan), Joseph will have to once again revisit those painful memories he is trying so hard to forget. These flashbacks reveal to us an unexpectedly shocking moment that kick-starts Joseph's self-destructive behaviour, eventually leading to the rift between him and Stella. This event, in addition to a deeply personal tragedy, turned Joseph into the man he is now. He realises that the latter may have some connection to his wife's terrible mishap.
Joseph is one of those rare films that rely mostly on images to convey its emotions instead of spoon-feeding the viewers with exposition, though at times the 90s-style melodrama plays spoilsport. In this day and age when films like Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum convey so much through so little, do we really need sad music to inform the viewers that they're supposed to feel sad in a certain scene? I felt these musical pieces were superfluous because Joju's face is more than enough to tell you everything you need to know about his inner feelings.
However, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise thought-provoking and brilliantly written (by real-life cop Shahi Kabir) film whose ideas make you ask, "Do these things really happen?" They challenge the notions of some of the institutions we hold dear.
Shahi's informative writing brings to mind the writing of British author Frederick Forsyth who, in his novels, created incredible What-if scenarios by ingeniously blending fact and fiction. These scenarios, which were sometimes scary, made you see things from a whole different perspective. Like Forsyth, Shahi presents a similar scenario that is sure to get many of us talking after we have left the theatre. You don't know for sure if these things really happen, but you can't completely rule out the possibility either, and therein lies Joseph's strength.