Monsters And Men

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Anthony Ramos and John David Washington in Monsters And Men - This interwoven narrative explores the aftermath of a police killing of a black man. The film is told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand.
"Green isn't interested in demonising individuals but rather in considering the pressure points that can motivate violence and the code of silence it is easier for everyone to adopt rather than speaking out." | Photo: Alystyre Julian

Fiction films about police brutality, particularly when it carries the spectre of racism, tend to lay their arguments out in black and white. In his feature debut, Reinaldo Marcus Green dives into the grey areas, pulling out from the immediate figures involved in the police killing of an unarmed man to create a measured, if structurally baggy, triptych exploring the impact a police shooting has on the wider community.

Manny (Anthony Ramos) has lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn for what appears to be all of his life. A young father, he jokes with the local kids, knows where to pick up a couple of loose cigarettes for his mum and is generally going about his business when he walks past a police altercation with someone he knows near a corner store. He pulls out a phone just in time to capture a shot fired. We never see the victim fall but we know what has happened.

In the first of the film's many moral quandaries, Manny faces a tough decision - upload the video and suffer the potential consequences from cops who have already made veiled threats on the subject, or forget all about it. This 'do nothing or do something choice' is repeated throughout the movie - next by African-American Dennis (John David Washington). He knows all about institutional racism in the police force because he's a member of it, although as the film shows in its first scene, that doesn't stop him from being treated as 'a suspicious black man' when not in uniform.

In one of the film's strongest moments, he stares at Manny through a one-way mirror, at once seeing someone else and a reflection of himself. As with Manny, Green shows us how the status quo is begging to be maintained, as those around Dennis encourage him to turn a blind eye, just as Manny's family did. The final perspective is offered by Zee (Kelvin Harrison Jr), a school baseball player with big league potential, who finds himself increasingly politicised by his own experience of stop-and-search and the protests that spin up in the wake of the shooting.

Green isn't interested in demonising individuals but rather in considering the pressure points that can motivate violence and the code of silence it is easier for everyone to adopt rather than speaking out. Each of the men in question has warm family ties - fluid naturalistic shooting by Patrick Scola, helping us to feel at home with them - and each finds their duty to family clashing with what might be better for the wider community.

In particular, Green shows how the police force as an institution is resilient, if not impervious, to change, as those within close ranks with a shrug and those outside find they are easily on the receiving end of violence just for protesting. The frustrations this causes may not justify brutality in the opposite direction but, the narrative suggests, they are a contributing factor in it happening.

The film gathers strength as it goes, featuring strong ensemble work across the board. Manny's story initially feels frustratingly open-ended but once we get used to the idea of characters disappearing from the narrative, the rhythm settles down although a bit more connecting tissue between the men would have been welcome. With a philosophical framework that asks us to consider the bigger picture, Green's film shows that the loaded system is as much of a threat to minority communities as a loaded gun.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2018
Share this with others on...
This interwoven narrative explores the aftermath of a police killing of a black man. The film is told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand.

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Writer: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chanté Adams, Nicole Beharie, Rob Morgan

Year: 2018

Runtime: 95 minutes

Festivals:

Sundance 2018

Search database: