“Monkey Man”: Intense Action

I’ve liked Dev Patel from his early days as an actor so when I heard he was directing as well as starring in the film “Monkey Man”, I was excited, especially once I had the opportunity to see some of the previews. What makes the film especially interesting is that it didn’t completely follow my expectations. It had intense action but Dev Patel’s dynamic acting and the layered, complex story propels it far beyond a simple action movie.

“Monkey Man” is an action thriller directed by Dev Patel who also co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Angunawela and John Collee. It is Dev Patel’s directorial debut and addresses the corruption in Indian society by using the tale of Hanuman as inspiration. In the story, Kid (Dev Patel) ekes out a meager existence as a fighter in illegal combats run by Tiger (Sharlto Copley) using the moniker Monkey Man. Kid’s purpose in life is to get revenge on the men responsible for the death of his mother, chief of police Rana Singh (Sikander Kher) and his boss, guru Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande). Dev comes up with a plan to insert himself as staff for the hotel/brothel/club that the men own but his plan goes awry. With the help of other outcasts, he must come up with a new plan to defeat his enemies. 

The story develops slowly in this film, which is part of what makes the action intense and gritty. The writing develops the background of Kid and through the use of flashbacks, shows us how and why his mother dies and he is after revenge. The layered and complex narrative allows time for the audience to understand the society and corruption of the city officials as well as to understand that Kid will never be able to get justice through normal means. Through the use of news reports, we learn just how entrenched Rana Singh and Baba Shakti are with the political figures of the city and how impossible it is to remove them from power. This slow build allows the intensity of the film to build until the explosive conclusion.

The other reason the film is so intense is the action scenes. Each fight is realistic, fought hand to hand and is brutal in the blood and details. It was raw martial arts at its finest, similar to John Wick or older karate films in which the scenes are sweaty and feel improvised. That intensity is something you rarely see in action films today and it adds passion to the story, a visceral thrill felt each time bones break or blood flows. You cannot help but cheer for Kid when he flows into action. Each fighting scene is powerful and dynamic

Dev Patel is at the center of this film and it is his dynamic and intense acting that gives the film passion and drive. He performs Kid to perfection with scarred hands and silent countenance, his desire for revenge blazing from him. We also see times when his character struggles with the pain he has endured and Dev develops that perfectly, letting us see the trauma of his character. While the rest of the actors are just as dynamic, it is Dev Patel’s performance that will be remembered as he takes center stage for almost every scene.

While the complex story does drive up the intensity and passion of the film, increasing the power of the action scenes, there are moments when the story pacing is slightly off and uneven. There is a lot of political information provided in short clips and almost more information than the audience needs. The flashbacks help sell the revenge portion of the narrative but could be trimmed down as some scenes repeat, slowing down the pace of the film. But once the pacing has built, it does balance out and comes to an explosive and vivid end full of potent fight scenes. 

If you like old school martial arts and potent stories, “Monkey Man” is full of intense action and passion. Dev Patel is forceful and fierce as Kid with a passionate and skilled cast to back up this high powered, passionate tale blending the tale of Hanuman with the real life politics of Indian society and intense action scenes with gritty fights. I loved the power and dynamic layered story as well as Dev Patel’s powerful performance. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 masks

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