Monday, April 15, 2024

“MONKEY MAN”

THE STORY – A young man ekes out a meager living in an underground fight club where, night after night, wearing a gorilla mask, he’s beaten bloody by more popular fighters for cash. After years of suppressed rage, he discovers a way to infiltrate the enclave of the city’s sinister elite. As his childhood trauma boils over, his mysteriously scarred hands unleash an explosive campaign of retribution to settle the score with the men who took everything from him.

THE CAST – Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sobhita Dhulipala, Sikandar Kher, Vipin Sharma, Ashwini Kalsekar, Adithi Kalkunte & Makarand Deshpande

THE TEAM – Dev Patel (Director/Writer), Paul Angunawela & John Collee (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 120 Minutes


A young man with burns on his hands paints himself white, dons a monkey mask, and steps into the ring, where he loses to more popular fighters for money. This nameless Kid has styled himself after Hanuman, a Hindu deity he learned about as a boy from his mother. Years ago, armed police forces claimed Kid’s village to be sitting on a holy site before burning it to the ground, taking his mother’s life. He has spent the years since training to fight and take large amounts of pain in the hopes of one day finding a way to kill the man responsible. Now that he finally has the chance, is he fully ready to get his revenge?

“Monkey Man,” the first feature from actor Dev Patel, is a classic revenge tale told in a bold, exciting way. For his first feature as a director, Patel has fashioned a remarkably ambitious screenplay (alongside co-writers Paul Angunawela and John Collee) that weaves in religious and class commentary, mythological subtext, and an exploration of childhood trauma, all while being an unrelenting, pulse-pounding actioner. And on top of all that, he also stars as the titular character. The nod to Batman in the title isn’t a coincidence, as the film feels like a superhero origin story at times, never more so than during a bravura training montage set to a traditional drumbeat that steadily increases in intensity as Patel and editor Dávid Jancsó connect political and religious rhetoric to violence against women and the poor. In one sequence, Patel conveys the mental and physical lengths Kid has to go through even to be ready to take on his mission, why Kid is so devoted to his mission, and how this isn’t an issue that affects just him. This sequence is emblematic of the film as a whole in that it does so much more than it has to. While this isn’t always to the film’s advantage, it definitely works in its hard-hitting action sequences.

Take, for example, the film’s first big action sequence. What begins as a one-on-one bathroom brawl steadily escalates in intensity until the action has to explode out onto the streets in the form of a frenetic chase involving cars, motorcycles, vans, and even helicopters. Every time you think it’s over, it keeps going, continually raising the stakes in a way that would make Tom Cruise and the “Mission: Impossible” team jealous. The film’s final action sequence has been conceived as a spin on the video game-like structure of “The Raid” films, and cinematographer Sharone Meir shoots it with the slick, color-coded cinematography of the “John Wick” films. This fusion results in an apex of modern action cinema, with Meir using everything at his disposal to make the sequence as visceral and legible as possible. The fact that this is all built around a strong emotional core makes it all the more impressive and all the more effective, which makes it kind of strange that the more emotional material is where Patel’s inexperience behind the camera shows the most.

As inventive and technically dazzling as the action sequences are, the flashbacks to Kid’s trauma feel straight out of the first-time director’s playbook. Kid’s traumatic memories are only seen in quick, violent flashes, while his happier memories are shown as full scenes, often in hazily-lit slow-motion. These scenes find the screenplay bluntly stating its themes, turning much of its subtext into text. Given how much the film is taking on, perhaps this is to be expected, especially considering Patel’s mainstream ambitions. The emotional pull of Kid’s story does work, after all. Still, considering the flair Patel exhibits with all aspects of the material elsewhere, the conventionality of this major story element feels like a bit of a letdown.

“Monkey Man” may be an incredibly ambitious, densely-packed thematic work (the final battle sees Kid literally ascend from the lowest caste to the highest via a private elevator, with a battle on each level). However, it is still an action film, first and foremost. The film’s more conventional aspects help to place it more firmly within the genre, while its more original, ambitious aspects ensure its place in the pantheon of great action films. Patel has created a solid story and filmed it so masterfully that it works on every level. The film’s emotional hook sticks with you afterward, but while watching, it’s a thrilling, stylish adrenaline rush that will have you right there next to Kid for every punishingly satisfying moment. Watch out, world. Dev Patel has officially announced himself as an Action Auteur and is ready to kick the genre into the future.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Dev Patel's wildly ambitious first feature is ablaze with kinetic action and righteous fury. Patel proves he's got the goods not just as an actor but as a director and action star.

THE BAD - The story is a bit generic, and the dialogue is a bit blunt.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Dev Patel's wildly ambitious first feature is ablaze with kinetic action and righteous fury. Patel proves he's got the goods not just as an actor but as a director and action star.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The story is a bit generic, and the dialogue is a bit blunt.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"MONKEY MAN"