Kid (played by Dev Patel) prepares for an exhilarating fight in order to avenge his family (Photo courtesy of Universal).
Kid (played by Dev Patel) prepares for an exhilarating fight in order to avenge his family (Photo courtesy of Universal).

“Monkey Man”: Netflix reject turned sleeper hit

Dev Patel’s bloody revenge film is a must watch for those who like political undertones.

★★★★

A decade in the making, Dev Patel made both his action hero and director dreams into reality with “Monkey Man“, released on April 5th.

“Monkey Man” is Dev Patel’s first foray into directing. It’s an action film set in the slums of India, following an underground coliseum fighter who decides he must fight back against his city’s elite.

The production process was fairly smooth for a movie shot during COVID, save a few broken bones, though the release of the film involved quite a few speed bumps. 

Netflix had the rights for around two years, but hesitated on a release and eventually let go of the film in 2023. Presumably, Netflix was uncomfortable with the film’s political undertones that clashed with their large Indian viewerbase. It took the endorsement of director Jordan Peele working with production companies Monkeypaw and Universal to acquire the film and get it a wide release and an overall success 

(Trailer courtesy of Universal)

Monkey Man is a highly enjoyable action movie, the type of film that anyone can derive enjoyment from. The Fusing  of Indian culture helps separate it from its contemporaries, and the script is strong enough to keep viewers engaged throughout.

This movie was promoted as action genre fare first and foremost, and it doesn’t disappoint on that front. Slick choreography and direction keep the viewer engaged within the fights, but Patel is smart enough not to inundate the film with them. As such, each sequence is memorable. It all comes to a violent, explosive head in the final act, which is just a long stream of brilliantly shot brutality, such as Dev Patel using his teeth to drive a knife into a bodyguard’s throat.

The writing carries a surprising elegance, even without factoring in that this is Patel’s debut. Despite the “action” label, the narrative never takes a backseat, and is frequently woven in with the action scenes. Without giving away any spoilers, the moral realignment of the protagonist throughout the film is uniquely achieved. The dialogue is naturally written and delivered clearly, evocative of how people talk in real life, but never coming across as stilted or overly cheesy. The cinematography & blocking is nothing too flashy, but combined with the mostly night setting & neon-esque lighting, a little is able to go a long way.

Monkey Man’s hardest aspect to pin down is the political commentary. It’s a bold step in critiquing Indian society and the government, and the real life protest footage is a standout of this aspect of the film. Even briefly mentioning the religious suppression of minorities in India is a very brave choice from Patel.

However, there’s other times where the film only hints at its ideas of anti-nationalism and religious oppression, rather than being open with them. For instance, a crucial event for the protagonist is the attack on his village before the events of the film, but there’s no information on what oppressed caste or religion the victims belong to. By no means does this ruin the film or make it worse, but it’s a very strange omission, and makes this segment of commentary come across as a half measure, especially compared to the boldness it has in other parts. 

Taken as a whole, Monkey Man is a standout indie film, one of the best releases of 2024 so far. The writing, action, and aspects of the political commentary make it a stellar crowd pleaser that still leaves a lot to offer underneath the surface.

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