Starring: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Rating: R for Language, But Nothing Particularly Explicit Given the Subject Matter
Release Date: September 28, 2018 (Limited)
Monsters and Men, which details the fallout of a police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man in Brooklyn, is emblematic of a certain strain of realistic film that leaves you hanging but justifies its anticlimax by ensuring verisimilitude. While its lack of a firm ending – or even a firm thesis statement – may be true to life, it is not exactly a formula for great cinema. It is respectable enough and hard to get angry at, but it is entirely legitimate if, as a filmgoer, you would prefer more satisfaction. A happy ending is not necessarily what we’re looking for here, but a firmer political stance or a clearer artistic point of view would have been beneficial.
The action is divided into three vignettes centered around three young men of color in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. There’s Manny (Anthony Ramos), the boy who recorded the shooting on his phone and struggles with the potential consequences of releasing the footage; Dennis (John David Washington), a black police officer who explains the racism he has experienced to his colleagues and the officer’s perspective to his friends and relatives; and Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a high school baseball star being courted by the major leagues who feels drawn to activism despite his father’s fears for his safety.
Manny and Zyrick’s dilemmas are compelling but ultimately thinly sketched. Dennis’ predicament, however, could have been meaty enough to build an entire film around. Washington has already played another code-switching cop this year in the much rowdier and more effective BlacKkKlansman. That film, in attempting to explain how a black man could justify a job in law enforcement, had the benefit of digesting the past, noting for one thing the significance of breaking racial barriers. Explaining this dilemma in 2018 may be an even thornier issue; it’s a topic worth tackling by a bold film, but Monsters and Men isn’t quite bold enough.
Monsters and Men is Recommended If You Like: The long journey of racial equality, Slice-of-life short stories
Grade: 3 out of 5 Dilemmas