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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

Dev Patel's Monkey Man is a Bloody Lecture

Monkey Man is like a sociology lecture at the Grand Guignol. It has a lot to say, but something must suffer if a movie is trying to both educate and show bloody action. You cannot be both Die Hard and Schindler’s List. As such, Monkey Man is an action movie with better comparable movies and a social commentary movie that confuses rather than clarifies.

Dev Patel directed, produced, co-wrote and stars in Monkey Man. Although he’s starred in many movies since his debut in Slumdog Millionaire, it’s his first feature as a director, writer and producer. His acting is as strong as ever, while his directing and writing could use improvement. Despite my opinions on the movie, I applaud Patel for getting this low-budget, original-concept movie made and already turning a profit at the box office.

A silhouette of a man in an alley. A few neon signs behind him.

Patel wore his influences on his sleeve in Monkey Man. The exterior scenes in an Indian city are like the favela melting pots in City of God, Chungking Express and Slumdog Millionaire. There is a training scene that is brutally typical of action movies like The Dark Knight Rises. And there is the obvious John Wick comparison. The Keanu Reeves hit is even mentioned in Monkey Man’s dialogue.

Monkey Man includes some exciting Indian actors that are early in their Hollywood careers, including Pitobash, Vipin Sharma and Sobhita Dhulipala. It’s too bad that some character stories don’t have full conclusions. Pitobash’s character is a gem throughout the movie, and he looks poised for a third-act story, but his conclusion never develops. The purpose of Dhulipala’s character in Monkey Man is entirely dubious.

The movie’s best sequences are the ones that link directly to India’s heritage. This is sometimes done through the movie’s music. For example, a boxing scene accompanied by tabla drums is a highlight as is a fight sequence accompanied only by a sitar.

The in-ring fight scenes were a little uninspired. Patel could have chosen different ways to shoot these scenes or given the main character some other way of making money. Boxing is one of the oldest tropes in Hollywood. Its use in Monkey Man felt a little unexciting and the scenes felt bland.

Monkey Man has a transgender storyline that makes the movie modern and, possibly, controversial. As Monkey Man puts it and the Internet backs up, there is a community in India known as the Hijra, which are a group of people that are transgender, intersex or eunuch. This feels like a bigger topic that could be its own story subject. Instead, it feels unnecessary in Monkey Man. Patel’s main character does not struggle with sexuality himself. Other than some long looks with Dhulipala, he does not have a love story or any perceived sexual desires. Hanuman, the Hindu deity central to Monkey Man, is a celibate and this may explain the protagonist’s solitary ways.

For better or worse, so much of a movie is dependent on its discourse. Although Monkey Man is a decent movie on its own, I believe it is pandering to modern audiences by including unnecessary topics to spark conversations about religion, hijras and guided hallucinations. I prefer when a movie is more subliminal with its commentary. Take Taxi Driver, a commentary on the dejection of New York and the disillusionment of post-Vietnam America. It comments on these topics without directly associating them with Travis Bickle’s deranged victory. Both Monkey Man and Taxi Driver deal with an isolationist, male protagonist. By allowing India’s culture to soak into the movie rather than having political issues directly attached to the protagonist would have helped Monkey Man become more refined and memorable. Instead, the sum is not as great as its parts.

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