Film Review: Monkey Man announces Dev Patel’s filmmaking prowess with a tender ferocity

For the majority of his career, Dev Patel has played – for lack of a better word – the “nice guy”.  Or at least a variation of that archetype.

In Monkey Man, the actor is gleefully – and, occasionally, gorily – taking no prisoners and reclaiming his image as an all-rounded creative, announcing himself as a filmmaker in the most ferocious, visceral way possible.

Whilst there is a revenge story at the core of Monkey Man, and the trailers may have you believe it’s cut of the same cloth as John Wick – the Keanu Reeves-led series even getting a namedrop throughout – Patel’s laced his story (co-written with Paul Angunawela and John Collee) with a filthy realism and a socio-political edge that elevates this beyond a mere genre entrant.

Steeped in a rich mythology that serves as a parallel to Patel’s character’s own arc, Monkey Man explains the legend of Hanuman, a Hindu monkey God that was robbed of his powers, only to return stronger than before.  Patel’s “Kid” – the only moniker to which we know his character as – embodies such an arc as a dirty street fighter who takes a beating night after night under the rigged directions of the sleazy Tiger (Sharlto Copley); Kid, who adorns himself in a monkey mask, promised a slight bonus if he spills blood across the fight.

The Kid’s brutal skill and ability to take a beating prove handy across the film’s 121 minutes as he eyes off India’s corrupt 1-percenters.  There’s motivation behind his saga – all of it presented via flashback pertaining to his boyhood village life and the death of his mother – which further ties into Patel’s own topicality as a storyteller, with the poor and less fortunate’s oppression at the hands of the wealthy and the apparent lawful serving as large subtext.

It helps Monkey Man from an accessible point that it does eventually culminate in continuous, bloody action – and the Jordan Peele producer credit doesn’t hurt either – but it really can’t be stressed enough how progressive and tender it is too.  A subplot surrounding the Indian hirjas – an oppressed collective who are trans women, intersex, and/or eunuchs – speaks to both Patel’s inclusive mentality and that of the film’s.  The “victim” outline on paper is thoroughly redrawn through his hand.

The emotional and psychological weight of Monkey Man measures just as laboriously as its physical.  It’s a story that can’t so easily be tied down with a simplistic description, even if its revenge framing is the easiest to lure unsuspecting audiences.  It may prove a more personal, affecting film to certain audiences than others, but regardless as to how one measures its narrative success, what Patel has projected himself as beyond acting is nothing short of exceptional.

If Monkey Man is where he starts, then the limits as to where he climbs next is truly, frighteningly exciting.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Monkey Man is screening in Australian theatres from April 4th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.