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Review: Monkey Man (2024)

Monkey Man (2024)

Directed by: Dev Patel

Premise: Set in India, a man (Dev Patel) whose mother was killed when corrupt police officials sacked their village insinuates himself into high society and plans violent revenge. 

What Works: Monkey Man joins the recent slate of impressive action pictures with highly choreographed fights shot and edited with energy and visceral impact. The set pieces are furious but they also demonstrate a great degree of technical acumen; this is the feature film directorial debut by Dev Patel who proves to be a confident and promising talent behind the camera. Monkey Man has a leg up on some of its fellow action films with its emphasis on character and sense of place. Dev Patel isn’t a stoic action hero; he’s simmering with self-righteous rage which is evident in Patel’s posture and line delivery. The filmmakers do a good job demonstrating the kind of man he is and linking his anger and sense of justice to the life he has lived to this point. Monkey Man has some colorful side characters as well including a drug dealer played by Pitobash, a transgender community leader played by Vipin Sharma, and a charismatic spiritualist played by Makarand Deshpande. These characters are distinguished and support Monkey Man’s visual texture and sense of place. The filmmakers use the Indian setting quite well and the picture has a local flavor. The locality of Monkey Man is important to the film. It is, quite blatantly, a political picture. Monkey Man comments upon contemporary Indian politics and it dramatizes corruption, the plight of the impoverished, and the mergence of the state with religion. In a way, Monkey Man is a response to nationalistic Indian films such as RRR.

What Doesn’t: Action movies tend to have simplistic and reactionary politics. That is certainly the case in Monkey Man. The film operates on video game logic; if Dev Patel’s character can just avenge his mother and kill the bad guy then injustice will be solved. But Monkey Man is not just about revenge. It’s about poverty and corruption and toxic nationalism and religion mingled with politics. These are institutional problems and they won’t be solved by offing any one villain. The politics of Monkey Man are especially troubling in the way the film endorses terrorism and rejects democracy. The climax takes place on election night; Patel’s character launches his final assault as the ruling party celebrates their wins. Viewers don’t have to read into the movie too far to find an endorsement of terrorism and a rejection of democracy. That might be interesting if the filmmakers approached these ideas with intelligence but Monkey Man does not acknowledge this tension; the filmmakers don’t even appear aware of it. Monkey Man is also overlong. The storytelling is inefficient and the movie reiterates the hero’s backstory multiple times. 

Bottom Line: Monkey Man establishes Dev Patel is a talented and ambitious filmmaker. The action sequences are done well but the movie is overlong and its politics are provocative but simplistic.

Episode: #992 (April 14, 2024)