Attack movie review: John Abraham’s latest is yet another example of his convenient patriotism.
Whatever might be the measures taken by an earlier John Abraham film, there seems to be a renewed bloodlust in Attack, that’s actively trying to court the ‘masses’ of Uri and The Kashmir Files.
At this point, actor John Abraham’s career has become all about wish fulfillment. After playing a triple role (including an unnaturally muscular farmer who probably grew up on kale chips and granola bars) in one of 2021’s worst-reviewed films, Satyamev Jayate 2, Abraham is playing a heavy concoction of characters in his latest release, Attack. This is in part, Abraham trying to inhabit Vicky Kaushal’s 200-crore part in Uri: The Surgical Strike, Tiger Shroff in his Baaghi movies where he’s taking on nations by himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Universal Soldier franchise that spawned a cult of its own, thanks to Star Movies. Also, equal portions of Bruce Willis from Die Hard and Gerard Butler from the Olympus have Fallen films — both of which are tense, well-made action films about a single man helping with a high-stakes hostage situation.
In Attack, Abraham’s character has a few shades of characters from all of the above famous (and more importantly commercially viable) films. And these are only off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many more ‘source materials’ that will emerge over the course of this review. Like in anything within the realms of success in Bollywood, even Attack seems to be testing the limits of the Theseus paradox – if one can ‘borrow’ from enough diverse places, is it possible to brew something “original” of their own? The short answer in the case of Attack is… no.
Directed by debutante Lakshya Raj Anand, the film begins with an image that Ridley Scott wore out in 2008. A mastermind of a terror group appears on TV preaching about (what else, but) jihad, serving as ambient sound for young boys who are apparently members of a terror group. In a Uri-like opening set-piece, we cut to the Indian army’s night-vision, as they near the camp of militants. One thing that Dhar’s film really got right was the choreography of battle sequences, which we cannot take for granted after watching Attack. What the 2019 film did seamlessly, the John Abraham-starrer struggles with. The action sequences are choppy, where we routinely cut to a first-person POV almost as if the director is gratuitously showing off the ‘live-action game’ quality of the film.
John Abraham’s Arjun Shergill (much like Vicky Kaushal’s Vihaan Shergill) is a member of the special forces in the Indian army. After a terror attack on an airport leaves Shergill paralyzed from the waist downwards, while also grieving his dead partner (Jacqueline Fernandez in a role that would be called a cameo if it wasn’t the part of a ‘heroine’), he is convinced by a former boss (Prakash Raj, filling in for Paresh Rawal/Adil Hussain/Nassar) to sign up for a super-soldier program, where they will insert nanobots into his body, rebuilding his spinal cord and turning him into a genetically enhanced soldier. Dr. Octavius? Tony Stark? Cyborg? — the references galore in this plot mean that the audience is constantly watching a scene and thinking about the film it might remind them of. There’s a final stretch of Abraham on a superbike racing down the Delhi roads, reminiscent of Abraham’s own Dhoom days and also the Mission Impossible movies.
There’s more than one indication that Attack is a direct offspring of Uri’s success at the box office. Rajit Kapur, who played PM Modi in the 2019 film, plays the home minister here. In one scene Prakash Raj’s character seems to be alluding to a “New India” that not only believes in a “muh tod jawaab”, but quite simply “muh todna” as well. Attack has been scored by Shashwat Sachdev, who brought a nice heavy metal score for the sleek missions in Uri too. Kapur’s Home Minister in a separate scene sarcastically quips “Aaj kal soldiers ka josh kuch zyada hi high chal raha hai”. Abraham comes within striking distance of calling the film Uri Too.
It might be interesting to note that John Abraham has gone through an entire spectrum of films in search of that one elusive blockbuster. Working in “mindless” comedies by Anees Bazmee, playing an underworld figure in Sanjay Gupta’s films. He’s also been pretty bipolar, doing Milap Zaveri’s Satyamev Jayate films on one hand, while also doing relatively grittier films like Batla House and Romeo Akbar Walter on the other. About to touch 50, Abraham has miraculously managed an acting career of nearly two decades, thanks majorly to a trunk of a torso and about two and a half expressions. He’s shown interesting initiative as a producer, backing films like Vicky Donor, Madras Cafe, Parmanu, and Batla House.
With Attack, one might begin to sense insecurity and desperation, which is why even the reckless emphasis on “Muslim” terrorists is dialed to 11. On more than one occasion a Muslim man is dragged by their collar, surrounded by either the Indian army personnel or law enforcement. Never mind that these characters are “terrorists” as per the filmmakers, and yet there’s something chilling about these visuals in India that we’re living in. In a separate scene, we’re shown a “terrorist” being shoved into the blades of an aircraft, causing him to get beheaded. A portion of the audience I watched it with, giggled during this scene. Whatever might be the measures taken by an earlier John Abraham film, there seems to be a renewed bloodlust in Attack, that’s actively trying to court the ‘masses’ of Uri and The Kashmir Files.
Abraham’s next, Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan, will also see him invoking the tricolor. While question marks loom over his status as a ‘viable star’, expect his convenient patriotism to show up in a more naked and ferocious manner. John Abraham is no longer playing nice.