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‘Monkey Man’ (review)

Having long since cemented how talented he is in front of the camera, with Monkey Man, Dev Patel steps behind the camera and adds director to his résumé with an unrelenting revenge thriller, where he also plays the lead role.

Telling the story of Kid, a young man going up against a corrupt system to avenge the murder of his mother, we follow him as he fights tooth and nail to infiltrate a seedy, extravagant business to get close to those responsible and ensure justice is served.

Leading his directorial debut with a performance brimming with passion, the film is imbued with a frenetic yet focused energy, which helps to build an, at times, almost unbearable amount of tension that largely maintains its momentum from start to finish.

Not seeking to alleviate the proceedings too much with a bunch of randomly interjected humor, Monkey Man nonetheless still has a handful of genuinely funny moments.

But the emphasis here is overwhelmingly on the devastating loss that serves as the motivation for the violence being dealt, and the film continuously distances itself from most other contemporary action films by being more gritty and grim than glossy and grandiose.

While action sequences with shaky camera movements have long had a bad reputation due to how they often take away from the action more than they add to it, the way the camera is utilized here adds to the unhinged nature of the choreography and Kid’s laser focus on what he must do, creating intense action sequences with a kineticism that is rarely put to celluloid this effectively.

Those going into this expecting a John Wick clone with a similar style and tone may be somewhat disappointed, as Monkey Man has an identity of its own that is distinctly different from the cinematic pseudo universe that has sprung from John Wick and the handful of films created by filmmakers with various connections to the dog-loving master assassin.

This is especially seen in how Kid differs to the vast majority of on-screen action heroes and heroines of late, namely in that Kid is not an expertly skilled killing machine who has a cool, calm and collected tactical approach to his mission.

Instead, Kid’s drive is what overwhelmingly gets him through various violent scenarios, however, this is not to say that he is in any way superhuman, as he not only takes a lot of damage, but the film also takes time to slow down and make him take stock and reconsider what he is doing, why he is doing it, and who he is.

By having this balance of emotionally raw iron will juxtaposed with growing into a more complete person and, by proxy, fighter through reflecting and refocusing, Kid becomes a more grounded and well-rounded character than is usually seen in ultra-violent action films, just as the film also offers more commentary than usual on social injustice, exploitation and corruption.

Monkey Man is an extremely intense and surprisingly gory action film that adds further refreshing filmmaking prowess to a genre that has already been harvesting praise for the past decade, proving that any genre can deliver excellent filmmaking as long as it is approached with passion instead of cynicism, and Dev Patel is a beacon of sincerity, talent and skill, something that saturates every frame of his directorial debut.

Verdict: 9 out of 10.

*   *  *  *  *
Produced by Dev Patel, Jomon Thomas, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld,
Ian Cooper, Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Christine Haebler, Anjay Nagpal

Story by Dev Patel
Screenplay by Dev Patel, Paul Angunawela, John Collee
Directed by Dev Patel
Starring Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma,
Sikandar Kher, Adithi Kalkunte, Sobhita Dhulipala, Ashwini Kalsekar,
Makarand Deshpande, Jatin Malik, Zakir Hussain

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