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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Monkey Man - Review

Monkey Man comes from first time director, Dev Patel. Swinging so big with a first feature, with an action revenge thriller spanning decades of vendetta and deep political roots. It is grimy and gritty with closeup and unforgiving action, a wide cast of characters that can feel like a slight loss in focus at times, and a rousing soundtrack that combines Hindi style tracks with some juxtaposed needle drops during moments of intense action. 

The look of the film ticks every modern action film box, and while the story gives you more than most, I would have loved a little bit more depth to the characters we spend most time with. I will say that the film feels like one that is a complete package, without pushing itself for future franchise motivations.

Monkey Man (Dev Patel) doesn’t really have a name in this film, along with numerous other characters, making it hard to speak about. I will try though. Monkey Man / The Kid grew up in rural India with his mother. Through flashbacks, we learn that she was killed by the police, led by a religious leader.  The Kid grows up around the city, learning to adapt to ways of life where he has to do what he can to make money and survive. He has taken up wrestling, under the name “Monkey Man”. He is relatively unsuccessful but is very able to take a hit and build up other wrestlers through his losses, like the prize fighter, King Cobra. 

Through his connections, he finds an entrance into the world of the elite, getting a job as a kitchen porter and working his way to wait staff. This gets him closer to the people who he is hunting down, and he begins to plot out his revenge plans. 

Through this, he improves his fighting ability, using these to protect a group of marginalised women in India, who come to benefit him through his journey.

The action sequences are really the standout of the film, with Dev Patel doing a lot of his own stunts, leading to a more grounded and visceral display of violence. The film is unafraid to show punches, kicks and stabs up close with sound design heightening the intensity with every bonk and squelch. 

It doesn’t lean on the fast paced nature of a fight scene to make it effective, understanding the pace it should be at through each encounter. 

We get a variety of locations where these larger scale fights happen, with all of them using the space really effectively, utilising the environments they are set in, to hit against or grab objects around.

The choreography is to be credited with these fight scenes, and creative camera decisions. We get a variety of POV shots that blend well, along with a mixture of quick cuts and longer, hand-held camera work. 

All these ideas come together to work really well creatively, keeping up the energy and never letting us an audience settle into the comfort of one particular style.

I do think this method has a drawback though, not allowing you to fully connect to the characters you meet. I think there are a lot of great relationships in Monkey Man that feel setup well with good promise. I would have liked a bit more development of The Kid as a character, as we see him very young and then jump to him present day without too much context. I also feel that along the way, some of the people we meet feel like they may be important but don’t get too much depth. I do think this is at a sacrifice in order to include more action, which I enjoyed immensely so can’t say I’m fully against either. With a more developed cast, I think this could have been one of the most impactful action films that I have seen. 

Monkey Man’s addition of culture, religion and political messaging allows for it to be deeper than an average action flick, with dynamic action and a motivation that you can care about. Jordan Peele’s producer credit on this film is fitting, with his focus on expansion of genre, and going beyond what people perceive of horror. Dev Patel has established himself as a director with a similar vision, willing to take an often overlooked genre of film, adding meaning and putting everything into the creation. I look forward to his future career behind (and in front, of course) of the camera. 


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