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Monkey Man

Updated: May 9

Dev Patel's directorial debut is a promising yet patchy actioner

Dev Patel has mainly used slim physique as that of an underestimated hero in dramatic films such as Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Lion (2016) or comedies in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019). However, he has been transitioning into the role of hero in the likes of The Green Knight (2021) and now his directorial debut Monkey Man (2024).


Monkey Man follows a man referred to as Kid (Patel) who fights in fixed underground boxing matches of an unnamed Indian city with the persona of a monkey warrior. Kid, however, is on a revenge quest from the trauma inflicted on his family and community by the tyrannical Hindu elite.


Patel makes his directorial debut with Monkey Man, which he also co-wrote with Paul Angunawela and John Collee. The film takes on the familiar beats of the revenge tale, adding the cultural backdrop of India within the story. Not only does the myth of Hanuman, the monkey deity that Kid embodies, infuse the story, but hints of food, music, and class dynamics make Monkey Man’s Indian city feel truly lived in. With it, Patel is making a rather blunt depiction of current Indian ails to criticize the current government. This political commentary is read further in how Monkey Man’s elitist villains use Hinduist rhetoric to foment displacement and violent repression of differing minorities. Patel weaves this commentary in a way that becomes intrinsically linked to Kid’s motivation, as such, it does not feel like a sidetrack, but rather the core message of the film.


Patel brings forth clear inspirations from Bruce Lee and the recent wave of John Wick action films, delivering gritty and creative action sequences. However, unlike the Wick and its better imitators, it is straddled with the nauseating shaky-cam style that Hollywood refuses to give up. This technique has never achieved its objective of making scenes gripping, instead diluting the great stunt work and leaving disorientation. Patel will sometimes stabilize his camera, letting impressive chase and fight sequences unfold, but his relapse into using the maligned camerawork creeps back inevitably.


As with many first-time directors, Patel also finds it difficult to trim his film. There are many scenes that slow the film down unnecessarily without adding much depth. Likewise, an overuse of flashbacks delivers a context unneeded for viewers to root for the protagonist. The inclusion of these unnecessary scenes also leads to the development of side-characters who feature prominently in the first or second acts of Monkey Man only to disappear, never to be mentioned again. Cutting some 20-30 minutes would have streamlined the narrative and led to a clearer and more satisfying throughline to follow.


In the end, Monkey Man is an impressive directorial debut for Patel, who showcases promising skills in character, action, and visual storytelling. This, alongside a committed lead performance, which hits the balance of damage and anger in his character, helps fuel viewer sympathy. Convoluted side-tracks along with the infuriating use of shaky-cam in the action sequences, keeps Monkey Man from becoming a truly great actioner, but nevertheless places Patel as a talented director to keep an eye on.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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