Dev Patel’s ‘Monkey Man’ – A Feast for the Senses

Rich revenge yarn teems with visual pageantry, bone-crunching action

Hollywood’s quest for inclusivity is both maddening and noble.

Forced diversity and Oscar-themed box checking are anathema to the creative process. Allowing more voices to share their stories?


Enter Dev Patel, the Indian actor best known for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Patel makes his feature directorial debut with “Monkey Man,” a powerhouse revenge yarn.

The story marinates in Indian culture, separating it from most Hollywood fare. That, and Patel’s passionate turn, makes it one of the year’s tastiest treats, albeit one not for the squeamish.

Monkey Man | Official Trailer 2

Patel stars as Kid, a loner who ekes out a living in fight-club matches in a fictional Indian city. He loses, on purpose, as part of the gambling scheme personified by the emcee (Sharlto Copley). Kid has something more substantial in mind.


The story keeps flashing back to his idyllic childhood, spent with a doting mother (Adithi Kalkunte) who reinforced his spiritual side. We’re not privy to how she exited this mortal coil, but it’s clear Kid has more on his mind than saving up some Rupees.

The source of his rage? A local enforcer named Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher) who should not be taken lightly.

Patel’s ambitions flood the screen, from tying the story to Indian folklore to the luminous colors invading our senses. It’s haunting, beautiful and, at times, exhausting. The style-heavy approach sometimes works against his story (his name is all over the film’s credits).

He’ll learn to pull back in future films, no doubt, and his filmmaking will be all the better for it.

“Monkey Man” doesn’t shy away from its class warfare themes. The story hints at Indian politics and leaders who prey on the poor. Patel the storyteller refuses to lecture us at any point in the film. It’s just another color on his cinematic palette.

The film flirts with the two-hour mark, but a good 15 minutes could be snipped without losing much in the process. For all its ambitions this is a grindhouse revenge story.

They need to be lean, mean and resourceful.

“Monkey Man” also fails to utilize Pitobash, cast as Kid’s sometimes ally. Their scenes together crackle with humor and uncertainty, but the screenplay gives up on their bond too early.

The fight sequence pop but some of Patel’s camera work gets too close for our comfort. We can’t fully process the kicks, punches and gunplay. You never go the full “Bourne,” another lesson Patel will process, no doubt.

It’s no surprise that the storyline includes positive portrayals of several trans characters, but the subplot doesn’t bully its way into the story. Nor does it stop the narrative cold.

Patel the actor has never been more resourceful. His character is a cipher for much of the film, but we don’t dare take our eyes off of him. He’s cunning and brave but so consumed with hate that he’ll make more than a few missteps.

A flawed hero. Dynamic action set pieces. Cultural layers that add to the proceedings. Not bad for a first-time director, eh?

HiT or Miss: “Monkey Man” has some warts, but there’s no denying what star/director Dev Patel brings to the action genre.


  1. producer jordan peele is an avowed outspoken anti white racist .. I’m not watching anything he’s associated with

  2. Interesting that you should note this: I’ve decried the horrible fight scene editing mimicked by virtually everyone since the Bourne movies. There is no flow or sense of what is really happening in the fight. Too bad this movie will be more of the same.

    1. I’ve seen good and bad fight scenes since the Bourne saga … it’s sad that filmmakers pour so much effort into the battles and then frame them in ways that are confusing to the eye.

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