Movie Review – Monkey Man

Principal Cast : Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Sikandar Kher, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ashwini Kalsekar, Adithi Kalkunte, Makarand Deshpande, Zakir Hussain.
Synopsis: An anonymous young man unleashes a campaign of vengeance against the corrupt leaders who murdered his mother and continue to systematically victimize the poor and powerless.


Who knew the kid from Slumdog Millionaire could kick so. much. ass!!! Dev Patel writes, stars in, and directed the absolute hell out of Monkey Man, a balls-to-the-wall action film from the steaming tropics of India that restructures my impressions of him as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. Boasting jaw-dropping fight and action sequences – including one on an amped-up tuk tuk that has to be seen to be believed – Monkey Man is a throwback to exploitation films of the 70’s and 80’s, polished to perfection and delivered with combative, raw dog ferocity by a man as good behind the camera as he is in front of it.

Patel plays an unnamed character living in Yatana, India (not a real place, as far as I can discover), out for revenge against a brutal police officer who tortured and murdered his mother while he was a young child. The Kid spends his time in an underground boxing ring as the monkey mask-wearing Kong (a pseudonym), throwing fights in competitions organised by ringmaster Tiger (Sharlto Copley). He discovers that the police officer, Rana (Sikander Kher) frequents an illicit booze and brothel joint within the city, and ingratiates himself to the manager, Queenie Kapoor (Ashwini Kalsekar) and one of her subordinates, Alphonso (Pitobash), the latter of whom takes the Kid under his wing. Although an early confrontation with Rana leaves the Kid nearly mortally wounded, the young hero recuperates, and trains his body into an unstoppable fighting machine, and eventually returns to exact his revenge.

Monkey Man is pure cinematic dynamite. An adrenaline punch to the face, the film’s dynamism, emotional weight and body-shredding fight sequences are something to behold, and if you can behold them on the biggest, loudest screen possible even then I doubt you’ll experience everything Dev Patel puts into his debut directorial feature. Patel is an actor I’ve usually pigeonholed into steady dramatic pieces, forgotten by subgenre films for the most part despite his career taking him on quite the esoteric journey. With films as diverse as Chappie (alongside Sharlto Copley, perhaps returning the favour here), Hotel Mumbai, The Green Knight and perhaps his most emotional triumph, Lion, Patel is a dependable if restrained talent on our cinema screens. Monkey Man is something of a surprise, then, as a tour de force of style, skill and craftsmanship I totally did not expect for his first feature behind the camera, and the end result is nothing short of phenomenal.

Patel not only produces, writes and directs Monkey Man, he also puts himself through the physical wringer as the star of the show, putting his stunning physique through all kinds of physical torture in his quest to deliver the delirium of Monkey Man. The stunts and action sequences here are as good as any going around Hollywood today, with plenty of bruising, bone-shattering brawls, collisions, gunplay and physics-defying energy as the Kid, vengeance driving him along the whole way, tears apart the city in his thirst for redemption. Patel and co-writers Paul Angunawela and John Collee craft the action around a fairly generic genre plot device – the agonising death of the Hero’s Mother – and it follows the Batman character arc superbly. Patel turns the weedy, angry Kid into a muscular death machine with consummate ease, making the viewer totally empathetic to his mission and incredibly attuned to seeing the Bad Guy, played here by a phenomenally unlikeable Sikander Kher, get his ass absolutely handed to him. The film also throws in a love interest in the form of the lovely Sobhita Dhulipala, as Sita, a sex-worker coerced into working at the brothel only because… well, that’s not clear, but it provides a solid foil for the Kid’s emotional entanglements.

While the plot might seem terribly generic, the film works because Dev Patel and his production team put so much effort into everything about it. This isn’t a film with a phoned-in performance, or a derivative action sequence we’ve seen countless times before, but an incredibly inventive procession of increasingly astounding fight sequences that will leave you wincing in pain throughout – and it’s gory as hell, too. Blood splatter is the order of the day with Monkey Man, as Patel’s Kid embraces the punching-bag he becomes in the underground boxing ring through to the brothel club bouncer tsunami he kicks off in the film’s third act – nobody gets away from this without spilling the claret, and it all looks cool as hell thanks to Sharone Meir’s crisp, grungy cinematography. The neon and piss-stained photography of the film really give Monkey Man a ubiquitously low-budget feel, despite some of the wonderful visual effects and mid-budget action sequences that occur within. The editing of the film is sheer dynamite, propelling both the viewer, Patel and the story forward almost without pause – heck, even the quieter moments of introspection feel somehow energised thanks to specific directorial choices to keep most of the flashbacks in closeups – and I give major props to the team of David Jancso, Tim Murrell and Joe Galdo for chopping this as brilliantly as they do.

Thunderously violent, filled with fun and energy and delivering a showstopping directorial debut for one of Hollywood’s best known faces, Monkey Man is an absolute thrill-ride and one I can heartily recommend. The action is frenetic, the character work on the Kid is generic but still engaging (Patel doesn’t stop being a brilliant actor just because he’s also great behind the camera) and the pulsating, gut-punch rawness of the film’s underbelly aesthetic makes for surprising, and very welcome viewing. As bruising an action film as I’ve seen in a while, Monkey Man is brilliant.

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