Academy-Award nominee Dev Patel. Thinking about that fact never gets old, because on the big and small screens alike, he has stood out from the crowd for years.
But it feels like we haven’t heard a lot from the Lion star in a bit. That’s not because he isn’t actually working. Two Patel features premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and most of us will get to see them in 2019. The Wedding Guest came out as recently as March 1st, while the Bleecker Street-distributed flick Hotel Mumbai is scheduled for a late March release.
As these films take flight, Patel continues lining up exhilarating new ventures, too. The latest of such projects was reported by Deadline to be a potential leading role in David Lowery‘s Green Knight. The film, which is in the works at A24, will be an ambitious retelling of the epic Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
There’s a lot to consider when translating enduring works from page to screen as it is, but Green Knight could be a particularly tough challenge. So far, its source material hasn’t made as much of an impact on the film world, simply because multiple adaptations pretty much miss the point beneath the prose.
Green Knight tells a tale of loyalty amid the structures of traditions and social mores. Camelot’s New Year’s Eve is interrupted by the eponymous ax-wielding green giant who challenges any knight to behead him. That is, so long as the Green Knight gets to deliver the very same blow to said knight a year later.
Sir Gawain, a courtly man bound by the code of his knightly stature, accepts this trial. However, he soon encounters numerous obstacles that put his faith and morals to the test.
Lowery proves his mettle as an unexpectedly chameleonic director, having taken charge of indie gems and wondrous blockbusters in the past. This makes a strong case for him to spearhead Gawain’s tricky coming-of-age adventure. Nevertheless, Green Knight‘s success will still remain partially contingent on A24 finding the right guy to carry this immense story.
For my money, Patel is a perfect choice. From portraying the growing pains of teendom at the beginning of his career to embodying multiple compelling leading men, Patel has found a star-making onscreen voice.
As part of the first cast of Skins, he is among a group of emotionally volatile kids that served as a great source of solace and relatability through my own teen years. However, Patel’s arresting, excitable, and juvenile small screen debut as Anwar Kharral merely hinted at bigger and better things to come.
That came in the form of the fantastical melancholy of Slumdog Millionaire. Patel is a quiet, determined anchor in the movie; one of three who portrays protagonist Jamal Malik. His performance is subtle but effortlessly moving and heartwarming. The intrigue of Patel’s onscreen presence really brings the broadly escapist Danny Boyle crowd-pleaser to life.
Patel would then go on to find roles that allow him to exercise the skills honed in his earlier years. There tends to be a pleasant mixture of comedy and drama in his most memorable works. Yes, Patel is certainly overzealous in The Newsroom. He is absolutely goofy in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, plus its sequel. That said, amid the unrelenting shenanigans of both, Patel’s charm, earnestness, and contemplative dramatic heft all shine true.
That brings us to a leading man era that began with Chappie, continued with The Man Who Knew Infinity, and culminated in Lion. Patel’s acting prowess lies in a considered ability to stoke emotional engagement for every character he plays, whether he’s in a conventional film or not.
Chappie is a massive experience. There’s a lot to take in, from its titular foul-mouthed robot to a militaristic Hugh Jackman to Die Antwoord in their feature film debut. It’s a good thing that Patel, as a nerdy and good-hearted programmer whose life unravels throughout the course of Chappie, swoops in and provides a point of truly human contact for the audience.
His poignancy also plays perfectly in more grounded stories. The Man Who Knew Infinity may be predictable, but it is an important stepping stone in Patel’s filmography. The film sports a fascinating premise but lets itself down by employing generic biopic conventions of timeline and storytelling. Yet, its stars — a vulnerable Patel as mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and a stoic Jeremy Irons as his mentor — foster the core relationship that makes the movie stick.
By the time Patel plays author Saroo Brierley in Lion (once again sharing the role with a wonderful child actor, Sunny Pawar), he is truly exceptional. The second half of the film is entirely his, despite the phenomenal Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara acting alongside him. Of course, Greig Fraser’s breathtakingly understated cinematography deserves credit for creating the ideal snapshots of homes across continents. However, once Pawar’s adorableness takes a bow from the main stage, Patel’s perceptive and driven portrayal of Brierley fills these spaces with passion and heartache.
Patel’s journey to becoming an awards season favorite was exhilarating and rewarding to watch in 2016. Between Green Knight, his upcoming directorial debut, as well as core creative involvement in the animated short Roborovski, there’s solid evidence that his magical career is set to keep flourishing. Patel is the ultimate emotive storyteller and this writer needs him back on screen ASAP.