A well-made feature film debut led by great performances, Monsters and Men splits the narrative into three while telling an all-too familiar story.
Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green takes us to Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood just north of Crown Heights. When a father plays witness to–what else–the shooting of an unarmed black man, all hell starts to break loose in their community. This is how Green chooses to start the film and with this, we’re off and running.
The three acts in this film all focus on someone else affected by what happened in the neighborhood. Manny (Anthony Ramos) captured all the footage of the shooting on his cell phone camera. Perhaps the most crucial player to the story is a cop, Dennis (John David Washington), stuck in the middle. One the one hand, he’s steal dealing with racism while on the force. On the other hand, he’s a person of color and has to deal with all the angry chants while trying to work. You can honestly make an entire film about Dennis because there’s so much to explore with his character. Finally, there’s the high school baseball player, Zyric (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). His coach has to calm him down with everything that’s been going on.
None of them cross paths all that much but when they do, it paves a way for a change in whose story we follow. It’s an interesting direction that Green chooses to make with the film. Are there more questions than answers in the process? Maybe but it’s still vital that a film like this explores a much-needed conversation.
I did think it made for an interesting decision to pair Dennis with a white woman, Stacey (Cara Buono). While it adds to the diversity on the force, it adds another complex layer to the story. How is he supposed to feel about his job when unarmed black people are being shot by police in the community? This seems to be a big message to take away or at least read into with a bit more detail.
We’re starting to see a running theme of films involving police shooting unarmed people of color. There were at least two of them premiering at Sundance while another premiered in Toronto. None of them should be compared to one another because that’s not fair. For the record, I watched this film less than 24 hours after a screening of The Hate U Give. They’re different films even though both films have a person of color working on the police force. It’s just that Monsters and Men has said character playing a major role. It’s okay because all of these filmmakers have their own commentary to add to the conversation.
A well-acted film, Reinaldo Marcus Green is able to set apart Monsters and Men from other films with similar material.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Reinaldo Marcus Green
CAST: Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr., John David Washington, Chanté Adams, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Cara Buono, with Rob Morgan and Nicole Beharie