Monsters and Men

 

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A death in New York City has repercussions on the lives of others.

 
Monsters and Men  

Anthony Ramos and John David Washington

 

The name to note here is that of Reinaldo Marcus Green for he is both the writer and director of Monsters and Men, a work that reveals him as a filmmaker of real talent and one who belongs to a tradition no longer as prominent as it once was. Like such great names as Ozu and Satyajit Ray, he displays humanity in his work, a quality that helps us to understand his sometimes flawed characters without being too judgmental. It makes for a very well acted film which, although less than a masterpiece, holds out definite promise for Green's future career.

 

Monsters and Men, the title oddly suggestive of the very judgmental attitude that the film avoids, is built around one incident, the killing of an unarmed black man in New York by a cop. We see the dead man's funeral but the focus is on three contrasted individuals, one Hispanic and two black, whose lives are affected when the shooting is played down by the police. Manny (Anthony Ramos) is the outsider who could take the view that it is no business of his despite the fact that he happened to be on the spot and could put out the images of the incident captured on his smartphone; Dennis Williams (John David Washington) is a black cop aware of the strain faced by all policemen and anxious that one bad cop should not ruin the reputation of the force; Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is a teenager for whom baseball, for which he has a real talent, is central to his life but who, being black, finds himself turning to activism for the first time as a result of this violence by the police.

 

Given the nature of the material, the narrative could have intertwined the three story threads but instead, although the ironic opening scene involves Dennis Williams, Green chooses to present in turn and in this order the tales of Manny, Dennis and Zyrick. I was aware of this before seeing the film, but viewers without that knowledge may find themselves somewhat at a loss when one section fades out to lead on to the next one. It is also the case that as a newcomer Green occasionally uses both out-of-focus elements within a shot and hand-held cameras in ways that stand out tiresomely in 'Scope which is the format used here. But these are relatively minor points. Monsters and Men arrives here in the wake of two other recent films by black filmmakers yet overall the comparison prompted by that is in its favour. Green's film may lack the originality of Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman (another film featuring Washington who is excellent in both). However, like George Tillman Jr's overrated The Hate U Give which treated themes very close to those present here, Lee's film contained elements that felt fictional. Monsters and Men never loses its sense of authenticity. Some may feel that its restraint tells against it but to my mind, given the sense of injustice that it communicates, it is a strength and not a weakness that condemnation in any simplified form is avoided. We are certainly not asked to endorse everybody's actions but, as the famous Renoir line puts it, everybody has their reasons.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Chanté Adams, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Cara Buono, Rob Morgan, Nicole Beharie, Grant Jaeger, Josiah Gabriel, Emilia Allen, Amanda Warren.

 

Dir Reinaldo Marcus Green, Pro Luca Borghese, Julia Lebedev, Josh Penn, Elizabeth Lodge and Eddie Vaisman, Screenplay Reinaldo Marcus Green, Ph Pat Scola, Pro Des Scott Dougan, Ed Scott Cummings and Justin Chan, Music Kris Bowers, Costumes Begoña Berges.

 

Neon/Department of Motion Pictures/A Sight Unseen/AGX-Altitude Film Entertainment.
95 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 18 January 2019. Cert. 15.