Monkey Man review | Dev Patel’s directorial debut is a flawed passion project

monkey man review
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Dev Patel produces, writes, directs and stars in a hyperviolent revenge fantasy. Here’s our Monkey Man review. 

What a joy it has been to follow the career of the scrawny kid from Skins. Dev Patel made a name for himself as the charming lead in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, but has since gone on to defy all industry expectations in films like The Green Knight, The Personal History of David Copperfield and Lion

Patel is now shifting (part of) his focus behind the camera with Monkey Man. Patel is not only directing, but has also written the script and produces this gleefully violent revenge tale that roots its narrative in the deity of Hanuman. 

Patel plays an anonymous man, who is seeking revenge for the brutal death of his mother years earlier. He skillfully infiltrates a popular restaurant populated by the city’s rich and powerful, posing as a lowlife waiter to gain access to those who wronged him. 

Monkey Man
Credit: Universal Pictures

Monkey Man is bone-crunchingly violent, chaotically charged revenge fantasy. It’s relentless action and Patel shows admirable boldness and talent for directing action sequences. The action here is kinetic and thrilling and announces Patel as an exciting new voice in the genre, even if his direction is a bit wobbly at times. 

The film is clearly inspired by the likes of John Wick, sometimes a little too much. In fact, there’s a direct reference to John Wick in the film. If John Wick is all about slick action, Monkey Man feels like its dirty, merciless cousin and that’s a compliment. 

It’s a shame then that the film is bogged down by a predictable plot. It hits every narrative turn and twist exactly as you expect them. It does with plenty of style and there’s certainly value in that, but it’s hard not to be disappointed by how generic Monkey Man feels under all that. 

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Patel, however, is phenomenal. His performance, in front of the camera, is a spectacular masterclass in devotion and commitment. The film can be a bit heavyhanded with his backstory and the constant flashbacks that reveal nothing that we haven’t already suspected, but Patel’s physicality in the role is impressive. 

As a director and writer, he is less sure of himself. Most of the film unfolds in tight close-ups and the breathless pacing of the film becomes frustrating at times. Patel forgets to slow down, or stop altogether, to let things settle or sink in. Monkey Man is an exhausting watch, but the sheer determination here is impressive. 

Patel constantly, ambitiously, toes the line between stylish trash and something more meaningful, something with a sociopolitical message. There’s a lot of interesting ideas at play in Monkey Man, especially with the introduction of the hjiras, a recognised third gender in India, but it’s never fleshed out properly. 

Patel also introduces the possibility of a romance as his character meets Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), a kind sex worker. Their attraction feels frustratingly surface-level and Patel struggles to keep Sita and Pitobash’s funny sidekick Alphonso in the narrative as the action unfolds without them. 

Monkey Man is flawed, chaotic and messy, but it’s a fascinating start to Patel’s career as a director. This is clearly the work of someone who has so many ideas, images and themes in their head that they haven’t quite been able to squeeze them into one film and make it coherent. Perhaps the next one will be a tad more polished with a plot that doesn’t borrow from other film’s quite so much. 

Monkey Man is in cinemas 5th April. 

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