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Review Of ‘Monkey Man’: Dev Patel Takes The Helm In A Gripping Revenge Thriller That Evokes Mixed Emotions


In Dev Patel’s debut directorial feature, Monkey Man, a fictional underground fight club resembles many others: a dilapidated space filled with bodies waving cash and hurling insults at contenders. Despite harsh overhead lighting, the venue maintains a shadowy atmosphere, overseen by a greedy figure, where a young man faces humiliating defeats regularly.

Known as the Kid (played by Patel), the fighter wears a poorly fitting monkey mask, engaging in beatings that blend performance with masochistic ritual. Haunted by memories of his deceased mother, flashbacks depict a serene childhood disrupted by violence. Despite expecting defeat nightly, the Kid pursues a greater goal beyond monetary gain.

Premiering at SXSW, Monkey Man follows the Kid’s quest for vengeance, portraying him as an unlikely hero driven by courage and determination, drawing on action figure inspirations like Bruce Lee and John Wick. For Patel, the film serves as an allegory, melding technical prowess with his ethnic identity’s mythologies.

Patel, exploring his connection to India since Slumdog Millionaire’s success, grapples with his cultural identity as a British-raised actor of Gujarati Indian heritage. Monkey Man represents Patel’s assertion of belonging, delving into his identity to craft a personal narrative.

The film draws from the Hindu myth of Hanuman, a monkey commander symbolizing courage and strength. Flashbacks of the Kid learning about Hanuman from his mother contrast with the gritty urban setting of Yatana, captured vividly by DP Sharon Meir.

While the Kid’s relationship with his community comes alive in select scenes, Monkey Man struggles to maintain consistency, grappling with a screenplay that veers between broad strokes and narrow focus. The narrative introduces key players and intricate relationships, punctuated by intense action sequences.

As the Kid’s pursuit of vengeance intensifies, he finds strength through community support, echoing Hanuman’s journey. However, the film falters in weaving contemporary Indian politics into the narrative, leaving thematic nuances unexplored.

Despite its shortcomings, Patel shines as the film’s hero, delivering a compelling performance that showcases his growth as an actor and director. The climax sees the Kid navigating a treacherous environment, embodying the valor he admires in his heroes.

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