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Monkey Man

Updated: May 8

Move over John Wick, there's a new badass in town named MONKEY MAN, and he takes no prisoners. Part "Kill Bill", part Wick and stunningly its own, Dev Patel's new film announces Patel as both an action hero and one hell of a director.

Patel has always had a genial, comforting screen presence since his debut as Jamal in "Slumdog Millionaire" back in 2008, and through his portrayal of the ambitious Sonny in the "Exotic Marigold Hotel" films.

I never saw him as a potential action hero.

He is the driving force behind MONKEY MAN as its star, Director and Writer and he's crafted a story that pulls you in via its humanity before it pummels you with its thrills.

Patel stars as The Kid. The film opens with his loving memories of his mother and he as a young boy. They walk in a stunning forest in India, with her passing along caring messages. The love and calm is palpable.

We then enter the present day, with the Kid wearing the mask of Hanuman, a mythical Monkey like man embodying strength and courage. The Kid will need all he can muster of both as he enters the ring in an underground fight club run by Tiger (Sharlto Copley). The Kid's job appears to be to take a beating in every fight, with his compensation based on how much he bleeds.

Patel deftly weaves in flashbacks of his childhood, slowly revealing a path to the horrors that shape his modern day quest for revenge against the corrupt leaders who destroyed his family.

In an early scene that reveals Patel to be a visually inventive director, The Kid begins his plan to access India's most elite & corrupt circles of wealth & politics. A thief steals a woman's wallet from her purse in a cafe and it changes hands seemingly 50 times in just a couple minutes, the camera soaring down alleyways, over staircases and mad traffic until it lands in The Kid's horribly scarred hands.

He infiltrates an elite club in the heart of the city where the most powerful in business, crime, police and politics all thrive. The scenes in the club, all set to a driving score by Jed Kurzel (Overlord) quickly immerse you into many floors within the building, pulling them into you alongside The Kid. Like the classic action thriller, "The Raid", you subconsciously get to know the layout, making the incredible action sequence that comprises the last half hour of the film all the more exciting.

The patrons of the club are a fascinating lot. Baba Shakti (Markand Deshpande) is a spiritual yogi and holy man whose loyalties are questionable.

Sirander Kher is the violent police captain Rana, at the dark heart of The Kid's worst memories.

Pitobash plays The Kid's right hand man within the club, Alphonso. He's the man with access to all the floors and the fastest Tuk Tuk in all of India.

Patel's story structure for the film is not predictable. Action and drama are given almost equal measure and both are well executed.

I loved when The Kid begins to execute his plan of revenge. To say nothing comes easy is an understatement, leading to a confrontation, fight, brawl, escape and chase that just gets better as it goes. The stunt team is superb at every level and the camerawork is excellent.

Due to budget cutbacks and the challenges of a long production that started pre-Covid and almost didnt get completed, some of the shots within were done with Go Pro and iPhone cameras. They look fantastic, offering you a glimpse inside The Kid's perspective as he's fighting for his life.

A long sequence in the third act gives the story time to flesh out, for memories to become more completed and the full picture of The Kid's motivation to be laid bare. It all serves the film well, setting up a "Rocky" like moment when The Kid returns to the club, bursting through the doors and attacking the forces of evil full force.

Patel clearly trained a great deal with the stunt team for the final battle, one of the best in recent memory and the equal of any scene in the phenomenal "John Wick 4".

By adding more heart to the story, it gives The Kid even greater stakes to fight for, making each one of the wounds he suffers more personal to the viewer.

At times, it feels like Patel is stretching a bit, adding so many characters and subplots that he drifts close to losing his focus. He never crossed the line though, weaving a dizzying action flick that pours through the crowds of India at an incredible pace. Major social issues, corruption and acceptance are gracefully touched on, but never spoon fed.

Director Jordan Peele (Us, Nope, Get Out) saw Patel's film and was so dazzled by it than he came aboard as producer and worked through his production team at Universal to gain the film a wide theatrical release. It was originally intended as a straight to Netflix streaming debut.

Peele is one of my favorite directors of all time and we clearly share some sensibilities on what we like, because MONKEY MAN is a film that demands to be seen on a big screen. The sights and sounds of India wrap around you, popping with all its mad action, bright colors and overcrowded streets.

Patel leaps up the rank of filmmakers for me, showing incredible confidence as a storyteller. He teamed up with screenwriters John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Hotel Mumbai) and Paul Angunawela to create the screenplay, based on his original story idea.

I can't wait to see what he does next.

MONKEY MAN is a wild, moving, violent and bloody ride through every social level in a foreign land. It inspires awe at Patel's complete commitment to delivering an action thriller with heart. It's clear he's committed all his muscle and a few broken bones, a broken hand and a torn shoulder to the cause as well.

Action fans, prepare yourself.

MONKEY MAN gets an A.

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