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Monkey see, monkey don't miss out on Dev Patel's action thriller, 'Monkey Man'

Director and star Dev Patel brings a singular vision to his newest project, "Monkey Man." – Photo by @FilmUpdates /

The movie industry is continuously evolving as emerging directors bring their unique perspectives to the forefront. As audiences and studios continue to embrace women and people of color taking the director's chair, it's led to some unforgettable and deeply personal cinematic experiences.

With the release of his directorial debut last month, British actor Dev Patel's "Monkey Man," a powerful, action-packed thriller, shocked crowds worldwide. While the genre has been explored to death in recent years, Patel's foray into action, fueled by inspiration from ancient Hindu epics and critique of contemporary Indian politics, sets it apart instantly.

Both directing and starring as the film's protagonist, Patel was clearly determined to make his creative vision come to life. Known for previous roles in "Slumdog Millionaire," "Lion" and "Skins," Patel took on the new challenge of capturing intense combat scenes and pairing them with an incredibly raw story. 

In "Monkey Man," Patel plays Kid, a fighter struggling to make ends meet in the fictional city of Yatana, which is intended to resemble present day Mumbai. Kid eventually lands a job at a conjoined restaurant, luxurious nightclub and brothel, providing him with the opportunity to seek revenge on the tormentors of his family and childhood village.

The film portrays the lavishness of the city's offerings and contrasts it with the normalized grotesque treatment of women in this central establishment, as well as the wealthy's utter disregard for lower social classes. Kid's resentment and frustration is palpable as he bears witness to utterly despicable behavior. 

Much of the movie's success stems from Patel's physicality, which is key in his stellar performance — every punch he throws and every hit he takes feels real.

Kid battles seemingly the entire city, under the rule of a spiritual guru, Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), and the corrupt chief of police Rana Singh (Sikandar Kher). Both play their villainous roles perfectly — their inevitable downfalls are immensely satisfying to see unfold.

Whenever the antagonists are on screen, viewers witness the magnitude of pain inflicted on non-conforming individuals and communities, such as the village Kid once lived in. 

While scenes grow increasingly gruesome and violent over the course of the film, the brutality depicted sheds light on the countless experiences minority groups faced throughout history. The audience is left rooting for Kid as he becomes a heroic, god-like figure among the people.

Therein lies a central component of the film — its cultural and religious references, including the origin of its title, "Monkey Man." 

The movie dives into the story of Hanuman, an anthropomorphic Hindu God known to resemble a monkey in his appearance. Kid, reminiscing about memories of his mother and the tales that she would read him, adopts the symbolism of Hanuman, inflicting vengeance on the amoral society of Yatana. 

The name for the city of Yatana comes from the Hindi word for torment, likely a purposeful selection on Patel's part, commenting on the way low-income communities are taken advantage of.

Aside from the film's stellar acting performances, the production and cinematography are magnificent, with high-speed car chases and sharp combat scenes. Patel also makes the decision to feature immaculate nature shots, which give audience members the chance to catch their breath.

Its 113-minute runtime uncovers a multitude of unique settings, from grandiose skyscrapers to a grimy boxing ring to a whimsical forest village. The film paints an honest picture of the best and worst of Yatana, its glamor and its demise. 

"Monkey Man" begs viewers to watch its story both in horror and admiration, as Patel turns up the heat and the waterworks for this one-of-a-kind thriller. If this movie is any indication, Patel has a long future in Hollywood ahead of him, whether he decides to continue acting, directing or a little bit of both.

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