Monkey Man film review — Dev Patel directs and stars in violent revenge story

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Dev Patel is now 33, a sobering thought for anyone who recalls the gangling teenage star of 2009 Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire. You may feel older still watching rama-lama-ding-dong action movie Monkey Man, a violent revenge story in which Patel is both male lead and debut director. More blood spills here than in Slumdog, but the films share a vision of two worlds in a single Indian city.

Fifteen years ago, that was Mumbai. Now, it is the fictional Yatana, where a glittering skyline looms over a shanty through which a stolen purse can seemingly pass for miles through a mass relay of disembodied hands.

Such is just one bravura scene among many in a film of gonzo high style. Patel too clearly remembers his youth, casting himself as a character known only as Kid: a taciturn scrapper washing dishes at a members’ club. The story nods to Hindu legends: Hanuman, the monkey god, is a touchstone. But the rupee is the real deity in Yatana, a Babel of cocaine and gurus in penthouses. We soon learn that Patel is a keen student of other mythologies too. Untold kung-fu movies and Hollywood franchise John Wick inform a film that knows little in life is as good as good pulp. 

But amid the screeching tuk-tuks and thudding fist fights, the movie also gives us pause for thought. Stitched into the script are details you sense Patel has put there with an eye to the real modern India: religious sectarianism, rich and poor ever further apart.

The film’s back-story is only a little less dramatic than the on-screen mayhem: the whole movie was almost capsized by budget crises. Kudos to Patel. You would never know it. As the organised chaos builds to an absurdist whirl of chef knives and axes, it makes you think a little less. It still makes you duck.


In UK cinemas from April 5

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