Monkey Man

Monkey Man

Monkey Man, Dev Patel’s directorial debut, is an action-packed revenge thriller that unifies the classical and the contemporary. Review by Ruby Lowenstein.

Co-produced by acclaimed horror creator Jordan Peele, the film follows Kid (Dev Patel) in his quest to avenge the death of his mother (Adithi Kalkunte) who was murdered as part of a land grab that saw the destruction of his jungle home.

The story entwines the poverty and caste system challenges of modern-day India with the mythical lore of Hanuman, the divine Hindu monkey deity who ate the sun and was stripped of his powers as punishment. Enter Patel, our modern-day “monkey man” who has fallen on hard times since the murder of his mother, and, inspired by her boyhood stories, fights in an underground rink in a monkey mask.

But this is just to make ends meet. His true objective? To find his way into the luxury brothel “Kings” which is frequented by the objects of his revenge – corrupt Police Chief Baba (Sikandar Kher) and political figure and guru Rana Singh (Makarand Deshpande).

By pitting an embodiment of a divine Hindu deity against a corrupt guru, Monkey Man acknowledges the duality of religion as “a beautiful teacher” (to quote Patel) and as a smokescreen for corruption; a point of political commentary that may have unfortunately hampered Monkey Man’s acceptance in the Indian market.

The story that follows is a bloody, neon and grime-filled adventure that tackles questions of revenge and survival. Patel’s performance is gritty and soulful. Our antagonists are just the right amount of menacing and complex for a David and Goliath-style story while Sobhita Dhulipala gives a strong, empathetic performance as the courtesan Sita without reducing her to a damsel.

Unlike some action thrillers whose more horrific elements are primed for shock value, the gore of Monkey Man’s fight scenes reflects our hero’s willingness to do whatever is necessary, no matter how unsavoury. Although there is a consuming simplicity to the character of Kid’s trauma and desire for revenge, it also lends a single-minded clarity to the story that befits a contemporary take on Hindu legend and myth. His dedication to avenge his mother and help a local Hijra, third-gender, community, the targets of Baba’s growing empire of corruption, speaks to Hanuman’s core tenets of strength, ingenuity, and heart.



The cinematography by Sharone Meir of Whiplash (2014) and the Roots remake (2016) – is commendable. The camera movements are fast-paced without being distracting and there is a certain embodied playfulness to the fight sequences that captures the essence of a video game boss fight – a welcome twist in the action hero film genre.

The soundtrack, a mix of original scoring by Australian Jed Kurzel, classic Western hits and Indian metal is served up with dramatic flair and a keen eye for shot-change timing that distinctly enhances the film’s spirited action sequences.  With Kid’s arrival at the Hijra community, we are treated to an excellent training montage set to the beat of a tabla – hand drum – that exemplifies the superior editing and soundtrack of this film.

Overall, Monkey Man is an exciting spin on the action hero thriller. It is a bold breakthrough work for Patel as a burgeoning director, which provides him with an opportunity to showcase his already proven acting skills while continuing a long-held tradition of Indian cinema in retelling classical stories for contemporary audiences.

Monkey Man is currently screening at Cinema Nova, Village Cinemas Crown, HOYTS Victoria Gardens, Village Cinema’s Jam Factory, Lido Cinemas and Place Cinemas Penny Lane. •


Ruby Lowenstein is a writer, critic, and producer. She holds an BA with Honours in cinema and an MA in Arts and Cultural Management from the University of Melbourne.

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