‘Monkey Man’: Jordan Peele has nothing but high praise for first-time director Dev Patel

Jordan Peele speaks on stage as Universal Pictures presents the SXSW premiere of “Monkey Man” at The Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. Picture: Supplied

Jordan Peele speaks on stage as Universal Pictures presents the SXSW premiere of “Monkey Man” at The Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 11, 2024


At 45, Jordan Peele has made giant strides in Hollywood.

The award-winning film-maker, who has proved his Midas touch in comedy and horror, has been propelled into the spotlight with offerings like “Get Out”, “Nope”, “Candyman”, “Big Mouth” and “The Last O.G.”.

More recently, he collaborated with Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire” fame) on “Monkey Man”, which also features South African actor Sharlto Copley as Tiger.

The action thriller, which sees Patel making his directorial debut, is set in a forest village in India, where Kid (Patel) lives with his mother, Neela, who inspires him with tales of Hanuman.

When Baba Shakti, a ruthless spiritual guru in the nearby city of Yatana, sends Rana Singh, the corrupt police chief, to force out the villagers and acquire their land, chaos erupts as many people are killed along with Neela, who is also raped.

Inspired by the stories he grew up on, Kid sets off to avenge his mother’s senseless murder.

On what drew him to the project, Peele said: “The first thing I heard about it was that it was an action movie with Dev Patel. When I heard those two words together, I was instantly hooked because I’ve always wanted to work with Dev.

“He is just one of my favourite actors, being one of the most consistently empathetic and emotive, and I felt that here he had this amazing opportunity to be a badass.

“Then I heard that he also directed the film, which was mind-blowing, so, at that point, I knew it was something that I at least had to see.”

And Peele was blown away by what he saw.

“I walked in thinking that this was going to be the vision of a guy who had a great mastery of story, but that perhaps the action would be what a first-time director’s action might look like. However, I was stunned by how the action topped the best action films you see around. Those scenes were so well choreographed and had such fluidity and character,” he said.

Peele also sang the praises of Patel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Angunawela and John Collee.

He shared: “We couldn’t have been happier to work with Dev as a film-maker because he’s so inspiring and the kind of collaborator that I can learn from. I long to surround myself with other directors that can push me. He achieved so many things with ‘Monkey Man’ and I have so much respect for him.

“I love actors as directors, call me biased, but I just think that when actors have had the fortunate opportunity to work with great directors, they also have the opportunity to really hone their craft as film-makers. You see it happen over and over again, and it’s no different here. I mean, this is just an insane film for Dev to have as his first outing.”

Peele continued: “It was a joy to collaborate with Dev and I feel we have this great respect for one another. There is something about building a relationship with an actor over time where you get that shorthand but, here, it was with a director who also acts in his movie.

“He understood that my mission was to help him execute his perfect film and it’s been a fascinating learning experience for me.”

Unpacking the main theme of the film, Peele revealed: “This is a story that gets us emotionally on board with the drive of vengeance (which is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful force in the film), and it does it so well.

“It’s a personal and emotional mission with a character so full of humility, that all we want to do is see him succeed. And then, once he reaches a certain point, the character realises that revenge may not be enough and that he has to fight for everyone.”

He added: “The tone of the violence and the action is obviously gritty and cinematically beautiful. I’m struck by how many shots feel so fluid and visceral. And then Dev – as a physical performer and a fighter – has such a unique action quality to his movement that is wonderful and surprising to watch.

“I can't do that and would never look that cool but, somehow, Dev has this ballet-like grace and fierceness.”

With Peele revered for his out-of-the-box approach to film-aking, his high praise of Patel speaks volumes. And it looks like their collaboration is the start of many to come.

∎ “Monkey Man” is showing at cinemas nationwide.