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Review: “Monkey Man” is a Masterclass in Almost Every Way

Courtesy Universal Pictures

By Hamza Saeed     4/16/24 10:40pm

RATING: ★★★★½

Similar to this film itself, we will forgo a traditional expository opening and instead opt to dive right into the subject matter. We do so hoping that this review will benefit from such a move just as much as the movie did.

In an attempt to systematically dissect this film, Western film critics have attempted to categorize Dev Patel’s directorial debut as some sort of linear combination of “John Wick” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” A lazy approach? Maybe. Verily, though, it does begin to tell you a little bit about where this film is heading. “Monkey Man” is a brutal, seductive and violent film. Let’s delve into these labels instead of making flimsy comparisons to other movies. Because a work  that hits this hard, deserves to be admired on its own merit, not because it elicits parallels to other (great) films. 

The brutality in this movie doesn’t just stem from the ferocity of the action scenes, as well-choreographed as they were. Instead, Patel makes almost every interaction between characters grating. Crude verbiage, scarce dialogue and a harsh color palette all accentuate the raw, sadistic camera work of the film. Although some critics have lamented what they perceive to be awkward shot selection at times, we entirely disagree. The camera in this movie is antagonistic, unafraid to prop up both this movie’s heroes and villains. It lets us see the blood, sweat and dirt from an uncomfortable angle–and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be refined for commercial success or for the convenience of audiences.

This film most certainly isn’t afraid to be seductive. And then down-and-dirty. And then seductive once more. Patel will show you the glamor of the Indian elite, the allure of their debauchery and the siren of their degeneracy. But he’ll show you their abject evils too, and that’s not just a reference to the drugs or murder. Media manipulation, police brutality, systemic oppression. You know, the real bad stuff. Through these moments, Patel makes a damning accusation against a society that allows for such social stratification. 

This film is soaked in bloodlust. The fight in the middle of the brothel, the cut from smashing a head against a toilet bowl to a cocaine-inundated nightclub — all of these scenes beckon the audience forward. Get up and fight, Patel argues. It would be amiss to say that violence in this movie, however, is solely depicted in the spectacular fight scenes. The class interactions themselves are just as violent. What fundamentally separates slitting someone’s throat to bulldozing their village for profit? One of the greatest compliments we can give this film is that it makes a coherent, powerful argument: Violence IS the answer.

There are some things that could be criticized, for sure. Perhaps the searing pain that we see inflicted upon the women in this movie is a tad gratuitous. Then again, that’s probably the point. The social commentary is certainly well done, but could have used a bit more fleshing out at times. In the end though, “Monkey Man” does one particular thing that sets itself apart from the typical summer blockbuster. It refuses to force feed you a story, and instead, forces you to open your eyes and reckon with the horror. Filmmaking was never just about telling a story, it was about showing one, and “Monkey Man” is a spectacular return to that. 

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