Monkey Man (2024)

Dev Patel has fire in the belly and story in his heart. On the surface, his visceral, blistering directorial debut, Monkey Man may look like a John Wick wannabe, but it’s coming from a completely different place – it has things to say and heads to break. It’s The Raid  by way of Gaspar Noe, a bloody, girimy, nasty yet thoughtful tale of revenge that’s sure to astound many and leave a lot of us wondering what exactly Patel has next up his sleeve. 

Patel is an unnamed vagabond (or Kid), living within the slums of India. He spends his nights being beaten up for money, inside an earthen ring and his days tracking the lackeys of billionaire spiritualist, Baba Shakti (Makrand Deshpande). Visions of a violent trauma in his distant past plague his waking hours, only getting worse the closer to Shakti, and his right hand – Rana (Sikandar Kher) – he gets.  

There is a ferocity and rage powering Monkey Man. From top to bottom, Patel imbues his near-mythic story of revenge with such grime, energy, and viciousness, it’s a film that threatens to jump out from the screen and grab you by the throat. Patel’s journey with the film, mainly his overwhelming challenges will no doubt be a thing of legend, and you can feel that frantic energy lashing out. In every frame of this film, Patel’s back is against the wall as he gets this beast of a movie made by any means necessary. 

It’s inevitable that many will draw parallels between this film and others like John Wick and The Raid (myself included). And while they do share many a surface level trait, Patel and fellow writers Paul Angunawela and John Collee are pulling from such a wide array of sources that it’s hard to nail down any one point of inspiration. What’s clear is that they understand what makes an action film work, and have gone out of their to make sure that there is a substantive, emotional core to the story. We spend a long time with Kid, as he works his way into Shakti’s organisation, learning about his past, his struggles and where he fits within the brutal hierarchy of the world he inhabits. Long before even the first punch is thrown, we’re drenched in the humid narrative, and when the violence does finally explode, it’s a flash bang of intense meanness, leaving the audience bruised and dizzy. 

The energy, the catharsis, the brutality – it feels like scream therapy for Patel. His passion and creative soul are on clear display here and he’s got a lot on his mind. He’s managed to wrangle a personalised bit of action while injecting hefty amounts of socio-political commentary, drawing a direct line between the events in his film and modern day reality. It goes from a simple story of revenge, a young, vengeful man smashing his way to a final boss, to something weightier – it’s unexpected but very welcome. 

Monkey Man is a triumph of action cinema and a blistering debut. Dev Patel has willed this carnage into existence, his love for his craft and the craft of filmmaking overall is bright and clear. Given Jordan Peele is executive producing the film, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between both careers, which, for me, gets me ravenously excited. Because if Patel’s imagination, storytelling and directorial career path is anything like Peele’s, we’re witnessing genre greatness in the making. 

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