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Monkey Man (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 8


Starring Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sobhita Dhulipala, Sikandar Kher, Vipin Sharma, Ashwini Kalsekar, Adithi Kalkunte, Makarand Deshpande, Jatin Malik and Zakir Hussain.

Screenplay by Dev Patel and Paul Angunawela and John Collee.

Directed by Dev Patel.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 121 minutes. Rated R.

Indian actor Dev Patel has put together an interesting career over the past fifteen years or so. He’s starred in such diverse and mostly acclaimed projects as Slumdog Millionaire (I kind of hated that way-overrated Best Picture winning film, but he was very good in it), Lion, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and even as part of the ensemble in the Aaron Sorkin HBO series The Newsroom (my personal favorite of his roles).

However, despite working fairly regularly over the years – mostly in starring roles – he has never really had a big break-out role that exploded him into the A-list of movie celebrities.

Therefore, he has decided to take matters into his own hands. In the new action thriller Monkey Man, Patel is not only the star, but he also co-wrote and directed the film. And despite the sort of ridiculous title and the fact that Monkey Man is very, very violent (sometimes stupidly violent), it is a pretty impressive calling card for the actor and now budding filmmaker – a stylish and often thrilling piece of genre filmmaking with a distinctive Indian flair.

In fact, to a certain extent, Monkey Man shares a decent amount of the plot points and themes with Patel’s Slumdog breakthrough – young Indian boy struggling to survive after the violent killing of his mother, growing into a young man who is consistently underestimated and beaten down, delving in the gray areas of organized crime and police corruption, and showing the slums of India to be something of a hell on Earth. Also like Slumdog Millionaire, we are thrown in well into the story and then many of the details are filled in through flashbacks.

Patel’s character here (he is never named, merely referred to as the Kid) grew up on the streets after his mother’s death, and in his early thirties he is part of an inhumane fight club. He is cast as the villain fighter, wearing an ape mask and called Monkey Man, and he is basically paid (rather poorly) to lose. His main skill as a fighter in this brutal circuit is that he can take a beating and he bleeds profusely, which helps to inflame the bloodlust of the audience.

The Monkey Man character was not just random, though, nor was it simply because he had an ape mask. (Technically, an ape isn’t a monkey, but we won’t even get into that.) As a child, the kid’s mother enthralled the young boy with stories of the Hindu deity Hanuman, which had the body of a man and the face of a monkey.

According to Wikipedia, Hanuman “epitomizes the fusion of ‘strength, heroic initiative, and assertive excellence’ with ‘loving, emotional devotion’ to his lord Rama, embodying both Shakti and Bhakti. Subsequent literature has occasionally depicted him as the patron deity of martial arts, meditation, and scholarly pursuits. He is revered as an exemplar of self-control, faith, and commitment to a cause, transcending his outward Vanara appearance.”

Therefore the Kid is not only in thrall of Hanuman, in his Monkey Man character he is trying to be him. However, the fighting is just a means to an end for the Kid. He uses the money he makes to infiltrate the local organized crime in order to avenge himself on people who may have wronged him in the past.  

He begins a long, violent trail through the Indian underworld, law enforcement and politics. When badly injured during an early attempt at vengeance, he is brought into a local temple, where he is taught to win at fighting and hone his strengths and the strength of Hanuman. This leads to a long, bloody, hectic sequence where he not only tries to avenge himself but may also significantly change Indian political power.

The fighting scenes of Monkey Man are both exciting and a little bit ridiculous – there is no way this guy can take on so many people and be injured as significantly as he is and still keep going. However, action films long ago stopped making logical sense, and at least Patel is willing to acknowledge that the Kid is getting badly injured each time he goes out there, often having to take weeks or months to recover.

Honestly, I can’t imagine that I will ever be moved to see Monkey Man again, but I’m glad that I got to experience it.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: April 5, 2024.

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