Kids, yours truly must admit when she’s wrong. When I first stumbled onto Monkey Man, I had one thought. This movie must be Dev Patel‘s James Bond audition reel. One of our most talented but also underappreciated actors, Patel enters new territory this time around. We know he can act, but now he’s writing and directing, too. Is Monkey Man just John Wick set in India? Or is there truly something special here? Read on! 

Monkey Man follows a young man (Patel). He drifts through the underworld and cuts his teeth in the local wrestling scene with one aim: finally avenging his mother’s death. As his story takes shape, he learns not only who he is but also the true nature of his purpose. Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sikandar Kher, Adithi Kalkunte and Sobhita Dhulipala co-star in the movie. Dev Patel directs Monkey Man from a script he co-wrote with Paul Angunawela and John Collee. Jordan Peele co-produces the film.    

Dev Patel sits in the middle of a group and looks up with a smile on his face in Monkey Man.

Dev Patel is Kid in MONKEY MAN, directed by Dev Patel

As mentioned, Monkey Man marks Patel’s directorial debut. Yet, nothing about this film feels like it comes from a first-time director. The direction is vibrant, innovative, and, above all else, confident. So much hinges on the action choreography in a thriller like Monkey Man. Throughout the story, Patel crafts a fast, almost “Jason Bourne”-like pace. At the same time, though, he makes one important change. He isn’t afraid to let his camera run. It’s not a breakneck avalanche of fast cuts. He lets the action take shape, and the choreography play out. The result is a vibrant visual feast.

RELATED: Movie Review: Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire

This beauty doesn’t simply revolve around the action photography. Even the quiet moments are gorgeous. There’s a rich and vivid use of color throughout Monkey Man. These striking visuals help the action leap off the screen and are vital in crafting the film’s world.

This revenge narrative straddles a number of different environments. At its roots, this is a story of class warfare. Patel’s unnamed character (at one point, he calls himself Bobby) must wear a mask, both literally and metaphorically. The one place he felt truly comfortable was ripped out from underneath him. As such, he’s never truly at home anywhere. Yet, this also allows him to blend in. He can be who he needs to be to do what he needs to do. In this, Patel gives a heavily layered performance. While he holds onto this young man’s inner stoicism, Patel is capable of saying so much without a single word. It’s all in his face. 

Dev Patel looks out from behind a barrier as he's bathed in purple light in Monkey Man.

Dev Patel in MONKEY MAN, directed by Dev Patel

Meanwhile, Monkey Man’s biggest struggle is that it leaves quite a bit unsaid. This certainly allows more room to grow this world, but at the same time, the events and relationships outside of  Bobby’s immediate focus are left very vague. The overarching political narrative is left largely underdeveloped. Perhaps more painfully, the same is true of the relationship between Patel’s character and Sita (Dhulipala). The two share a tender and empathetic chemistry, but their relationship is never explored beyond knowing glances. In the grand scheme of things, though, it is difficult to say that more exposition is truly needed. Perhaps more should be left unsaid. 

RELATED: Movie Review: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

When all is said and done, if Dev Patel can direct a movie like this, he shouldn’t be wasted as James Bond. He needs to continue making movies and telling stories. Monkey Man taps into something really special. While the movie certainly has a flair for the action, there’s more to it. Monkey Man is a triple threat. If Dev Patel can craft something this tense, action-packed and utterly beautiful his first time out, I can’t wait to see him get more directing opportunities. Check this one out. You won’t be sorry. 

Monkey Man is now playing in theaters around the country. 

Check out our other movie reviews here


Kimberly Pierce
Follow Me
Latest posts by Kimberly Pierce (see all)