Welcome to The Prime Sublime, a weekly column dedicated to the underseen and underloved films buried beneath page after page of far more popular fare on Amazon’s Prime Video collection. We’re not just cherry-picking obscure titles, though, as these are movies that we find beautiful in their own, often unique ways. You might even say we think they’re sublime… and this week a recent hit from India livens up our hearts with War.
“Sublime /səˈblīm/: of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe”
There are great action movies from all around the globe, and they come in even more varieties than there are official languages in India. Did that sound like a casual, seemingly tangential reference to India? Surprise… it was planned from the very beginning of this post. And now you’re riding a high because you didn’t see it coming, you’re not entirely convinced that makes a difference, and you love it all the same? Well get used to it, because this week’s Prime sublime find is an absolute modern classic of highly entertaining action, surprising story twists, utter nonsense, and glorious musical numbers. This week’s pick is 2019’s Indian action epic, War.
What’s War about?
A routine assassination by India’s top army intelligence agent, Kabir (Hrithik Roshan), goes sideways when the impeccably coiffed soldier kills one of their own high-ranking analysts instead. It seems Kabir has gone rogue, and with the order from on high to exterminate him, the army brings in their next best man. Khalid (Tiger Shroff) looked up to Kabir and saw the man as his mentor, and that closeness makes him the only one capable of bringing the traitor down. Of course, not every thing is as clear-cut as it might seem.
What makes War sublime?
Oh boy. Director/co-writer Siddharth Anand continues his shift away from romantic comedies with his second action film, War, and the result is something truly special. At over two and a half hours, a fairly standard running time for Indian cinema, the film delivers a deceptively simple setup before contorting every which way with its story and characters. Terrifically entertaining action set-pieces share the screen with impromptu “music video” breaks, an in-character intermission complete with a PSA about the importance of failure, mildly homoerotic teases, constantly shifting loyalties, flashbacks within flashbacks, a clear appreciation for the Mission: Impossible and Fast & Furious films, gorgeous visuals, and more. Oh boy, indeed.
We’ll start with the action. War comes locked and loaded with fight scenes, gun battles, and bigger set-pieces aboard cars, motorcycles, planes, and more. Both Kabir and Khalid take part in their fair share of brawls, both as enemies and partners thanks to the film’s copious flashbacks to happier days, and the two men are athletic enough to convince with their various moves and hits. Shroff, in particular, is almost balletic in his kicks and flips, but both men still take advantage of stunt doubles and digital trickery. The CG face-mapping during the motorcycle chase is notably poor — but rather than hurt the film it adds to the overall experience as the filmmakers keep it all entertaining as hell with a mash-up of playfulness and serious sincerity.
Khalid’s introduction is a single take action set-piece (with evident cuts) that sees him take down a room full of baddies while destroying every breakable object within reach. Later action sees them mowing down terrorists with a car-mounted Gatling gun, taking off on foot chases through the cobblestone streets of Marrakesh, skydiving between planes, engaging in an epic chase through Portugal in cars, on motorcycles, and on foot, and even trading paint with sports cars across the ice of the Arctic circle. Sure, the effects occasionally stumble, but the absolute fun remains at a high throughout. A sequence set in and around a military plane in the sky may not be as convincing as a similar one in an M:I film, but it’s every bit as entertaining.
Anand crafts War with an eye for beauty and style wrapped in an only slightly cheeky seriousness, and the soundtrack keeps pace with catchy musical numbers and an energetically rousing score. Every moment’s a matter of life and death, except when it’s time for knowing smiles, romance, bromance, and music videos. We get a few dance breaks that care not where the film is plot-wise — we discover Kabir is a double agent, and soon we’re watching wide-eyed as he and Khalid share the dance floor for an extravagant blend of choreography, song, and color. Deep into the action we suddenly cut to a romantic summer fling of a video featuring Kabir wooing his woman beneath the Australian sun with song, dance, and smiles a plenty.
Roshan and Shroff are both terrific leads, and it’s easy to see why both are big stars in India. Shroff is actually starring in Anand’s next film about an angry veteran forced into violence called… Rambo, and he’s fun to watch as his dance skills overtake every fight giving him a grace and athleticism most non-Asian action stars lack. Roshan may be slightly less agile — the CG mapping on his face for what looks like a standard jump kick is weird — but he’s every bit the impressive physical specimen. These guys are jacked, but that doesn’t stop Roshan in particular from being as charming and charismatic as any Western movie star. He’s arguably even more so as the man has two thumbs on his right hand. That’s three total, and if you think any Hollywood actor, let alone a star, would have kept that throughout his career rather than having it surgically removed, well, you’re wrong.
While played (mostly) serious, the script is as entertaining as the action itself. Spy shenanigans involving double crosses, triple crosses, face swaps, and a steady stream of character absurdity keep the film from even suggesting a dull moment. There are so many sequences here, both action and otherwise, that deserve praise — the motorcycle chase would make John Woo proud in its thrills and ridiculousness — but they need to be discovered with your own eyes, ears, and fun-loving organs.
And in conclusion…
War is an absolute blast from beginning to end. I could go on breaking down the numerous scenes and beats, but please, seek out its wonders for yourself. Yes it’s subtitled and 154-minutes long, but it is a goddamn gift for the senses. Sticklers for realism need not apply, but if you enjoy cinematic fun this is a must-see. Trust me. Please. For the love of all that you hold holy. Watch War.