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Monkey Man Movie Review

A vicious and highly capable directorial debut that carves out a place in the crowded action genre.

By Robert CainPublished 27 days ago 3 min read
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After many years of acting in a wide range of films, Dev Patel makes his directorial debut with Monkey Man, a highly effective release that will satisfy any fan of action or hand-to-hand combat.

In modern day India, Kid (Dev Patel) has a bone to pick with the corrupt upper classes in his society. Between being roughed up in unlicensed bouts and conning his way into higher positions at the exclusive Kings brothel, Kid, also known as Bobby, looks to enact brutal revenge on those who burned his village down and murdered his mother. We never leave his perspective as the film dashes from one action scene to the next, occasionally slowing down or flashing back for some more thoughtful moments. As an action film, Monkey Man falls somewhere in-between John Wick (which is even referenced at one point) and The Raid from Gareth Evans. Where Patel’s film differs is with a greater sense of mysticism. The story will often refer back to the Indian tale of Hanuman, a divine being punished by the Gods when he reached towards forbidden fruit. This is closely related to the main themes including the divide between rich and poor and the lengths Kid will go to get even for both himself and his people. An immense divide between the debauched city life and natural temples is drawn out over time, offering up a solid dual narrative that clearly identifies the virtuous and the sadistic. With the odds constantly stacked against the leading man, Monkey Man maintains a serious edge.

Dev Patel has never been known for action, but he commits absolutely in both physical and emotional spirit. We often focus on Kid’s eyes which emphasise the trauma he went through as a child. Despite his keen eye for conning the rich, Kid also makes many costly mistakes on the way through, presenting him more as a raging animal than a shrewd tactician. This allows the dramatic tension to remain high throughout. Every performance is conducted well, but the side characters, both friend and foe, don’t always make an impact. In the first half of the film, Kid is assisted by another up-and-comer named Alphonso (Pitobash); he gets pushed to the side when things go wrong for both of them and doesn’t really return to the scene. The young Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala) is also underused; as a prostitute abused by the super rich, her character had potential to show another side of their brutal behaviour, but she doesn’t have much to do in the story. Some of the villains also leave a lot to be desired. While Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher) is cruel and merciless, the prime target of Kid’s vengeful battle, his superior is a bit of a letdown. Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande) is a manipulative politician who appears mainly on news feeds without much interaction with the protagonist. He also needed more depth and material to work with rather than meeting face-to-face at the climax.

Starting off with the contrast between rich and poor, Monkey Man leans heavily in a grungy and sombre tone, especially when we’re in the city. You can feel the grotty and rundown nature of the place which clashes with the obscene wealth and lavish meals enjoyed at King’s. We also get an extended track list of lively Indian pop music which really amps up the pacing. The cinematography and camerawork is truly insane at many points, mirroring Kid’s rapid flurry of punches and kicks. At one point, our hero tries to escape the authorities, only to fight his way through another seedy brothel ran by its psychotic axe-wielding owner. The shots quickly cut between POV, close and mid-range viewpoints without losing sight of the grisly carnage. Choreographed to a fine standard, Monkey Man is an extremely violent film that isn’t for the faint of heart, serving up many vicious executions with knives and other sharp objects. Only when we return to the protagonist’s roots does the camera slow down and linger, tying itself in with the indigenous people and the connection they have with their environment. In these moments, the film pivots to more traditional instruments to punctuate a training montage.

It may have some weak side characters and an underwhelming main antagonist, but Monkey Man is a capable action flick that carves itself a place among the best in the genre. It packs in far more spiritual resonance while laying the crazy camerawork and ultra-violent fight scenes on thick. The film also succeeds as a directorial debut with strong ambitions from Dev Patel that will get you on-board quickly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars (Great)

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About the Creator

Robert Cain

I'm a well-travelled blogger and writer from the UK who is looking to spread his blogs and freelance writings further afield. You can find more of my work at https://robc25.wixsite.com/thecainagecritique.

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