It's always interesting to see actors make the move behind the camera to make their directorial debut. There's been some great transitions in the past and now we see Dev Patel make the move with Monkey Man, an action film that packs one hell of a punch.

Kid (Dev Patel), a young man, ekes out a meager living in an underground fight club where, night after night, wearing a gorilla mask, he's beaten bloody by more popular fighters for cash. After years of suppressed rage, he discovers a way to infiltrate the enclave of the city's sinister elite. As his childhood trauma boils over, his mysteriously scarred hands unleash an explosive campaign of retribution to settle the score with the men who took everything from him.
Now, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Monkey Man might just be one of the most impressive filmmaking debuts I've seen in a while. Dev Patel directs this film with so much confidence and passion, it's impossible not to get swept up in it all. It's a pretty basic concept yet the execution is everything here as Patel guides us through the corruption and power dynamics within India at a blistering pace. The film treads a fine line in nearly becoming bogged down with too much backstory however, the spiritual nature of it all provides such an interesting angle and Kid's reasons for his rampage the emotional pull that makes it all worthwhile.

There's fleeting moments of action throughout, some laced with pitch-perfect comedy - jumping through a window in particular one highlight - culminating in an explosive finale packed full of dynamic action. It's great to see Patel switch things up in the action sequences too, POV shots thrown in to add a frenetic edge to the intimate fight scenes. The palpable tension is apparent at all times, Kid's rage simmering until it reaches breaking point - close quarters combat involving microwaves and kettles feeling like a shot of pure adrenaline direct to the brain. This isn't the all-out action film the trailer may have you believe, but it's far more effective when the action comes as a result.
Leading the film is Dev Patel in electric form, his commitment to both the physical and emotional side to the character something to be admired. I never had Patel pegged as the lead in an action film after his early days in Skins and Slumdog Millionaire but here we are, the man blowing all expectations out of the water to deliver quite possibly his finest performance. The film possesses a properly horrible villain in Sikandar Kher's Rana, a corrupt police chief with ties to Kid's past, and Kher does a great job in making him such a vile specimen of a man. It's great to see Sharlto Copley running his mouth on the mic during fight nights too, the man just exuding the perfect sense of scumbaggery for the role.

Monkey Man is one of those directorial debuts that makes you stand up and take notice of a new voice in filmmaking. Dev Patel has always lit up the screen with his presence in front of the camera and this effort proves he's capable of lighting a spark behind it too.

Verdict: ★★★★½


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