“Monkey Man” tries hard to be an action movie. At the center is the Kid, played by Dev Patel. He carries himself as a man on a mission of revenge, reminiscent of John Wick.  

But the subtext of the film is about God.   

The movie begins with the young Kid, played by Jatin Malik, being told the legend of Hanuman, a Hindu deity who is a monkey. The monkey god runs afoul of the other gods and is condemned to having his godly powers stripped.  

Shifting to the present, the Kid makes money in the underground world as a fighter wearing a monkey mask. The crowds hate him, but he does not care. 

Before a match, Tiger stands in the ring to announce that people have come to worship at the feet of the one true god: the rupee, the currency of the Indian subcontinent. 

We watch as the Kid works his way up in the city’s crime world, aiming to kill those who murdered his mother. The person directly responsible for her death was the chief of police, played by Sikandar Kher. The power behind the chief is Baba Shakti, a holy man who uses religion to sway the people’s political will, all for his own glory.  

Religion is the tool he welds to move people to his point of view.   

As the Kid moves deeper into the underworld, it becomes clear that he will fail in his quest for vengeance. He confronts the police chief but lacks the will and ability to follow through on his mission. 

This places the Kid at the point of near death. Carrying the wounds of his escape, he finds himself in a temple led by Alpha, who tells the Kid that his problem is all the pain he is carrying.  

The Kid needs to find salvation. The salvation he needs is from his motivation. What motivates the Kid is despair. Being rid of the despair will empower the Kid to go and do what he needs to do.   

This leads to the final fight, in which the Kid learns he must fight not only to avenge his mother’s death but also for all of Baba Shaktithe’s injustices. During a Rocky-like training montage, the Kid learns how to fight for justice. 

Throughout the film, there is a Hindu prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. It speaks to how God makes the person praying smile and how much the one praying loves God.  

Though this movie is from a Hindu point of view, it spoke to me about the problems we encounter when we meld religion and politics. The Kid wants to avenge his mother but does not find his strength until he sees the wrongs being done in the name of God.   

The “untouchables” in the city are being run over by those with power, all in the name of God. There is no separation between the religion and the political world.   

Dev Patel wrote and directed this movie, his first feature as a director. He is well remembered for his roles in other movies, specifically “Slumdog Millionaire.”   

Patel tries to make a case, but he is a bit heavy-handed in his characterizations. There are no redeeming qualities in those who are doing wrong. He cuts those characters out of a very broad cloth. It seems that everyone is not honorable except Alpha, Alpha’s followers, the poor, and the Kid. 

The movie warns us about the ease with which religion and politics can become entangled. But it suggests that only true believers, like the Kid, are worthy. 

One of my points of contention is the violence in the movie. I am not a person who gets bent out of shape by violence in a film. But here, the violence seems to be in the name of God—embracing a belief that God needs us to take up arms to fight injustice.    

Gandhi did not free India by violence. Monkey Man, however, suggests that violence is the only way to enact justice. When that violence is enacted in the name of God, terrible results ensue.   


Dev Patel: Writer and director
Dev Patel: The Kid
Sharlto Copley: Tiger
Sikander Kher: the Police Chief
Vipin Sharma: Alpha
Makrand Deshpande: Babe Shakti  

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, sexual content/nudity and drug use.

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