Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu is really two films: the first of these (roughly the first half) is a taut detective story, seamlessly merging the script and director Gautam Menon's technically slick vision, while also doing justice to a parallel budding friendship and romance between DCP Raghavan (Kamal Haasan) and Maya (Jyotika), neighbors at a New York hotel where Raghavan has landed up to continue a murder investigation begun back in India; it is rare indeed to find such an "adult" representation of a man-woman relationship in a mainstream Indian film. And if the masala fan in me was none too thrilled at seeing a film so very Hollywood (and hence, broadly, derivative), I was nevertheless enthralled by Menon's control, and by Kamal Haasan's excellent articulation of a middle-aged, low key cop (low key, that is, barring the somewhat incongruous opening sequence, wherein Raghavan beats the crap out of an entire gang all by his lonesome), one tormented by his failure to save his late wife from criminals eight years ago, and anguished by the brutal rape and murder of his best friend's daughter.
Unfortunately, the second film, which begins when the killers are introduced, is a crude, lurid crapfest of a movie, involving much yelling, pointless plot developments, and rather lurid violence against women. The result is that Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu is one confused movie, its two halves never quite gelling into anything coherent. I couldn't shake the impression (confirmed by Menon's recent interview with Baradwaj Rangan) that Menon felt he had to compromise on his vision in order to make a commercially safe film; one wonders if he went too far: certainly Menon's previous film -- Kaaka Kaaka -- was very successful, and that "episode in a police officer's life" did not have the acrid smell of blatant compromise so thick about it.
Overall, I would say that the film is worth watching more for Kamal's performance than anything else, and Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu confirms my impression that he is best in relatively understated roles; within the parameters of mainstream cinema he certainly has one here, and he handles it with authority laced with the odd vulnerable moment, the latter highlighting the fact that although the film may have begun on an "overman" note, DCP Raghavan is no larger-than-life mangod. More pity, then, that Menon did not stay true to his vision: either an out-and-out masala film, or a relatively realistic policier, would have been preferable to this mish-mash, which cannot but impinge on Raghavan's characterization in all sorts of unfortunate ways.
Kamal and Jyotika make for a good pair, and are that rarest of things, namely a mature couple playing characters close to their real ages. In the film's first half their interludes highlight the grey nature of the world Raghavan and Maya inhabit; in the second half one is relieved to get some reprieve from the baddies.
A word on the songs: Harris Jayaraj's music is better than some of his recent (disappointing) fare, though the videos are uniformly disappointing (it is especially difficult to forgive Menon his lame conceptualization of Paartha Mudhal).
All in all, this is a disappointing outing for Menon as far as I am concerned, and only Kamal fans will be sad to miss this one.