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'Monkey Man' review: Dev Patel goes 'John Wick'

Kristofer Purnell - Philstar.com
'Monkey Man' review: Dev Patel goes 'John Wick'
Dev Patel in 'Monkey Man'
Universal Pictures

MANILA, Philippines — Nothing is holding Oscar nominee Dev Patel back as he stars, writes and produces his action-driven directorial debut "Monkey Man."

Patel portrays a nameless underground fighter, only known as "Kid" in the credits, who loses matches for profit. He gains more money if he bleeds.

The protagonist soon makes his way into employment in an exclusive club where the rich and powerful gather, including the police chief who killed his mother. This leads Kid to ultimately set out on a path for revenge.

What follows is a well-structured tale by a first-time feature director and writer that stands out from action films of late, with the film standing its own as a potential blockbuster in the making.

The actor has come a long way from starring in "Skins" and "Slumdog Millionaire," to an Academy Award-nominated performance in "Lion" and leading man turns in "The Personal History of David Copperfield" and "The Green Knight."

Production was a big problem in getting the film made with the pandemic and injuries adding to it, but with the involvement of Oscar winner Jordan Peele, the film manages to keep its viewers on the edge.

Tapping Peele might have been a gamble, even for an established star like Patel holding the reigns on four key fronts, but Peele clearly saw Patel's vision, and it resulted in a risk that is paying off the dividends.

Related: Andy Serkis to direct, star in 'Gollum' movie for 'Lord of the Rings'

It's difficult not to compare the film to other recent action movies — "John Wick" is namedropped — with a training sequence occuring and so many tools are featured a la Jackie Chan movies. 

And yet Patel manages to make "Monkey Man" stand out both on the action choreography front and as a story, borrowing from the legend of "Hanuman" to craft a revenge tale that feels Shakespearan in nature.

Patel and his team of writers even involve politics and religion into the framework — a community treated as outcasts play a significant part in the protagonist's journey — that it appears more than just flying fists and quick cuts.

Credit is due to its team of multiple editors, namely, Joe Galdo, David Jancso and Tim Murrell, who curated numbered sequences that feel exciting (one might be surprised by how many action set pieces there are).

The cinematography of Sharone Meir, who shot "Whiplash," and the score of Jed Kurzel also deserve a pat on the back. 

There is one money shot of Patel's character in "Monkey Man" that surely Keanu Reeves or even Tom Cruise might be envious of, but take nothing away from Patel because he truly deserves this moment of success.

So much lies ahead for Patel now, even outside of another "Monkey Man" project, and the world better prepare for what he cooks up next.

"Monkey Man" opens in Philippine cinemas on May 15 and is classified by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) with an R-18 rating.

RELATED: Alden Richards hopeful for Kathryn Bernardo reunion movie

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ACTION MOVIE

DEV PATEL

INDIA

JORDAN PEELE

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