fri 19/04/2019

Monsters and Men review - an impressive debut | reviews, news & interviews

Monsters and Men review - an impressive debut

Monsters and Men review - an impressive debut

Dynamic yet subtle drama on the impact of police brutality on black Americans

John David Washington as a NYPD officer torn between professional and community loyalties

This well-crafted addition to the films inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement is subtler and less commercial than last year’s The Hate U Give but covers similar terrain. Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green sets Monsters and Men in Brooklyn and structures his narrative into a triptych, following three young men’s different reactions to the same police killing. In the process he sets the audience questions about complicity and loyalty.  

Drawing on the death of Eric Garner, choked by police officers when they caught him selling loose cigarettes in 2014, Green’s approach is painstakingly oblique. The first story follows a young Puerto Rican, Manny (Anthony Ramos, pictured below) who is trying to get a job as a security guard in order to support his pregnant wife and their toddler daughter. One night Manny witnesses the NYPD harass and then shoot Big D (Samel Edwards), a gentle giant and local character who is always hanging out by the store, selling cigarettes. Manny films the assault on his phone and knowing that it will endanger him, takes his time before uploading it to Youtube where it goes viral and spurs a protest movement. Soon the police are trying to discredit Manny and ruin his hard-won, secure family life.Monsters and MenThe second story focuses on Dennis (John David Washington), an idealist young policeman all too aware of racial profiling as he regularly gets pulled over just for "driving while black", but hoping that he can make a difference as an African-American NYPD officer. Dennis works alongside the trigger-happy cops who killed Big D and is challenged by friends over dinner in a slightly strained scene to justify his silence during the investigation of the killing. It’s interesting that Spike Lee taught Green at NYU film school and they both went on to cast John David Washington as a policeman. His character in Monsters and Men treads the same terrain as BlacKkKlansmen but Green (in his debut feature) doesn’t hector his audience quite as energetically as his lecturer, Lee. 

The third story, which is possibly the weakest in the triptych despite being the most autobiographical, concentrates on Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr). He’s a high-school student with the potential to become a professional baseball player. Green made an excellent short film in 2015, Stop with a similar character which enabled him to make Monsters and Men. Zyrick's coach and his strict father keep him on a tight leash, but nothing stops the local cops picking Zyrick up and patting him down when he’s walking home from practice at night. Galvanised by the humiliating experience and with a crush developing on a young woman active in the protests around Big D’s death, Zyrick becomes politicised and endangers his sports career. 

Monsters and Men is a very impressive debut feature that deserved its Best First Feature award at Sundance. Green mostly keeps clear of overt didacticism or emotional manipulation. We never see the video of Big D’s killing at length but hear it and observe its repercussions in the wider community. Certain storylines are left unfinished, challenging the audience to speculate and draw their own conclusions. This is very much social realist cinema rather than one-note campaigning. The camerawork is dynamic and thoughtful, there’s much use of tracking shots around the neighbourhood and oblique angles, as well as an excellent sound track by Kris Bowers (also responsible for scoring Green Book). Well worth watching.

@saskiabaron

Certain storylines are left unfinished, challenging the audience to speculate and draw their own conclusions

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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