Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Starring John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
The Plot: In a racially-divided America, three young men are spirited into action by the killing of a black man in their Brooklyn community. The fact that he was unarmed and shot by the police for not backing off is the real problem. Manny (Anthony Ramos) is the bystander who filmed the shooting and ponders the cost of releasing it. Dennis (John David Washington) is a cop himself, who knows only too well that being pulled over is a common occurrence for being a young black male. Zyric (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a promising baseball player who puts his career on hold to take a stand against the rising tide of aggressive police force…
The Verdict: As the credits roll on Monsters And Men, it becomes apparent that this thoughtful independent drama could only come from a first-time feature director. Not because of any major faults or uncertainty in its direction, but because of the purity and power of its message. There’s no cynicism or world weariness about contemporary America’s troubling problem with police violence on unarmed civilians – more specifically towards young black men. Instead, it takes a measured look at the consequences of actions, from those of the police to the people in the community affected by the taking of a life. It’s not the first film in recent years to address this issue, but it adds its own voice in a powerful way.
Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green structures the film in an unusual way, by taking the shooting from three different viewpoints. Each is in their own self-contained segment but with minor elements of crossover. Each of the three characters has their own battles to fight within themselves. Manny weighs up the consequences on his family and new job of releasing the video. Dennis contends with reporting on a fellow police officer and facing a backlash. Zyric ponders whether he should get involved as an activist and initiate change. All three segments complement each other as these men decide that taking a stand for their community is more important than their own self-interest.
What’s most striking about this low-key drama is that it’s never overtaken by its talking-point subject matter. It’s a message movie, but Green is careful not to deal it out in a heavy-handed way. It’s not really about alleged institutional racism in the American police force, something which other films have focused more on. The film’s main point is that we’re all connected by our common humanity and need to take a stand when something isn’t right. It’s also a film about the consequences of taking that stand, as well as the stark reality of staying silent and doing nothing.
Green’s direction is straightforward and unfussy, coaxing good performances out of his cast while delivering his points with unhurried conviction. He also intriguingly withholds the actual footage of the shooting. That’s a bold move for a first-time director, keeping us on our toes about what’s going through his characters’ minds. It’s not like the audience needs to see the shooting – it’s all tellingly written in the characters’ eyes anyway. Monsters And Men is an assured debut that leaves food for thought, while taking a fair and balanced perspective on this issue. Worth seeking out for its originality and clarity of voice.