Monkey Man (dir. Dev Patel)

By: Adam Freed

Laudably ambitious and culturally representative, Dev Patel’s directorial debut Monkey Man is a bone crunching assault on the senses that comes desperately close to reaching its potential, but noticeably short of unveiling a complete story. Posited as a one man revenge plot, Monkey Man, also written and starring Patel, surprisingly takes its time in creating a viable decades spanning backstory in which a child, is forced to witness an unthinkable act that shapes the nature of his future contempt.  Patel as a writer leaves very little room for himself by way of dialogue, as a vast majority of film’s conversational weight is carried by his capable cast of costars. Monkey Man isn’t in a hurry to peel back the layers of its protagonist, relying instead on the immersive nature of its inescapably tactile surroundings to suffice. 

Make no mistake, Dev Patel (Lion, Slumdog Millionaire)  certainly makes an impressive share of big choices within his debut film. Almost exclusively shot in medium close-up, or tighter,  the handheld nature and rigidity of the film’s visuals create a paradox in which combat feels overly complex and yet satisfactorily amplifies the visceral nature of his film. Audiences who flock to Monkey Man, expecting to see the balletic choreography and sleek stylings of the John Wick franchise will leave feeling a twinge of disappointment.  Seldom does any of the hand-to-hand bloodshed in Patel’s film offer a complete vista of the action, instead relying on what feels more like an attempt at a first person POV approach.  This bold choice requires a frenetic editing pace that grows burdensome as the story approaches its climax.

As is the case with many an initial foray behind the camera, one gets the impression that as Patel’s directorial career evolves he will continue to scratch away at the rough outer shell of his vision, revealing the true potential that the talented star has to offer as a storyteller.  Evidence of this promise is revealed in Patel’s keen eye for capturing the film’s thematic crux, the social class warfare preying upon the vast majority of India’s citizens.  As ballistic and bruising as Patel’s assault on society’s upper crust may appear, in time he may master the use of a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, and with this learned gracefulness, cut far deeper into the cultural conscientiousness than he is yet to imagine.  The day will come in which Dev Patel’s charisma and clout as a performer will be rivaled by his ambition and craft as a filmmaker. Until then, it is unlikely that Monkey Man, even at its bone crunching and blood soaked best, is unlikely to earn permanence in the memories of audiences. 

Target Score: 6/10  Monkey Man is an aggressive and ambitious swing from first time director Dev Patel. While several of its punches land, his initial offering is sure to one day act as evidence of his directorial evolution.