Hot Take: An authentic, “ripped from the headlines” look at the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white cop and the ripple effect of its impact.
Debut filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green has done an excellent job with his first film Monsters and Men. Green manages to take a hot topic and apply various points of view to it giving us three different characters and their perspective on a routine police action gone wrong where a black man beloved in his community in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood is shot by a white officer. From the young kid who filmed the shooting to the black police officer who questions whether or not his fellow officers have a racial bias to the young high school athlete who must decide on whether or not to get involved in his community’s uprising. All three tales have a weight to them and Green is effective in his ability to weave the characters together. It’s never frivolous and hardly wastes a second of its 95 minute run time. It speaks to current events and the escalated climate we face due to social media’s ability to make incidents such as this such a relevant and necessary topic to discuss.
Monsters and Men opens with a powerful scene. Officer Dennis Williams (John David Washington) is pulled over on his way home from work. He’s not speeding or out of control. It’s never said but when the officer comes up and asks for license and registration and quickly moves on, we know why Officer Williams was pulled over. After the opening credits, we follow Manny (Anthony Ramos), a young Bed-Stuy resident trying to find a job to support his daughter and girlfriend. One night while shooting dice with friends on the corner behind a Bodega, they see the cops descend on the storefront. Manny instantly begins filming with his phone and witnesses the cops shooting of an unarmed black man. After the incident, Manny must choose whether or not to release the video to allow people to see the wrongdoings of the arresting officers but also face undo pressure from the local police or sit on the video and keep people from seeing the injustice which occurred. Once he decides to release the video, Manny’s life is impacted but not only his life but Officer Williams whose life is impacted by everyone seeing his fellow officer’s mistake and high school athlete Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) who must choose whether or not to get involved or simply continue to play without a mention of the incident.
The film moves swiftly between each story and purposely leaves a few loose ends untied. The film’s main character is none of the members of the trio nor is it a character itself but something else. It’s more a theme than a character. Green asks his characters what they plan to do now that they’ve seen wrongdoing and are faced with the choice of speaking out or sitting idly by while everything happens around them. This in turn puts it on the audience to ponder the same dilemma and makes for a powerful message.
It’s tough to make a film such as Monsters and Men without vilifying the police. For the most part, Green pulls it off without going too heavy on the narrative that our criminal system is broken. It is broken but the police in Monsters and Men are more realistic in their depiction than most films we see. It’s a credit to the filmmaker and the film’s message to keep the characters from becoming caricatures and it’s in Green’s restraint where the film packs the most punch. It’s definitely a film worth a look and thoughtful reflection afterward.
Holding up a mirror to our current societal climate sounds like a good thought exercise to experience at the cinema.
You like that little bubble you remain in where nothing goes wrong and everything’s fine and dandy.