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Monkey Man (Film Review)

2 min read

Few actors have a filmography as interesting as , whose humble origins in Skins led to awards-calibre turns in Slumdog Millionaire and Lion before eschewing the mainstream for the likes of The Green Knight and The Wedding Guest. Now he's stepping behind the camera for and it's an astonishing debut.

Early on, an arms dealer asks Patel's simply named the Kid if he likes John Wick before offering him a gun that was “used in the film”. But the Kid's needs are a little more nuanced and it's a great summation of Monkey Man as a whole: the comparisons are obvious but this is a film that (politely) demands its own headline. From Bruce Lee to gonzo Korean action, Bollywood, and Wick, Patel wears his smorgasbord of influences with pride and sometimes with a gleeful wink at the audience but Monkey Man is larger than the sum of its parts and stands apart on its own merit. Not least because the sociopolitics of the plot following Patel's Kid exacting revenge on the corrupt officials that killed his mother are so unsubtle and risky in a way so few films dare to be these days.

Patel doesn't pull his punches here, literally and metaphorically, with a physical turn that might just be his most impressive to date. The combat is tightly choreographed and every blow feels fatal. The cycle of violence is depicted as misanthropic and nasty here but there is still a sense of playfulness and mischief about the kills that makes for some satisfying viewing when it does eventually kick off. But, narratively too, the political deconstruction of the Modi regime is pointed and lands with knockout force against the backdrop of the Hindu poem ‘Ramayana' about the deity Hanuman – the protector of the people whose powers are stripped by the gods – in the fictionalised city of Yatana. It's a testament to Patel's impressive craftsmanship that the burgeoning script is able to juggle so many tones, themes, and nuances with such deft precision.

Some threads are still sparsely sketched; a subplot involving high-class escort Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala) is relegated to the sidelines after a brief, intriguing setup while the underworld fight club gleefully hosted by sleazebag Tiger (Sharlto Copley) where the Kid moonlights as the ‘Monkey Man' echoes the less developed parts of a seemingly colourful backstory. But where it needs to count, Patel's script is attentive and the cultural touches elevate the visceral Monkey Man into the upper echelons of the revenge cinema canon. A mid-point sequence where the Kid is forced to reconcile with his failures set to Indian tabla drumming will go down as one of the year's best while acting as a fitting summation of the film's strengths. It's kinetic, unique and thrilling in abundance and shows Patel as nothing less than a singular, propulsive storytelling force to be reckoned with.

‘Monkey Man' is in cinemas now.