Monsters and Men
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Monsters and Men is a thought-provoking drama looking at the aftermath of a police shooting from three different perspectives. First it follows Manny, who knew the victim and captured the incident on his cellphone camera. Second is Dennis, a police officer who was not present at the shooting. Third is Zyric, a high school senior taught by experience to be wary of the local police. The movie gains a quiet power in the way it sees both sides of this issue and does not put total blame on either side. There are bad cops, yes. But there are also really good ones. Just like there are a lot of good and bad among the people they serve. Writer/director Reinaldo Marcus Green makes his points subtly. Though the combined impact of all three stories is less than the sum of its parts, what he has come up with is worth listening to.
One of the more remarkable things about Monsters and Men is that Green never actually shows the shooting. We are with Manny when he witnesses it, but the camera is focused on him, not what he is seeing. We hear what various people say happened without ever observing it ourselves. This is an interesting tactic because it does not attempt to give us easy answers, either as to who is at fault or how to prevent it from happening. Just like in life, we get to make our own conclusions. That allows the film to humanize its issues instead of politicizing them.
Manny (played sympathetically by Anthony Ramos, currently costarring in A Star is Born) is a Puerto Rican American trying to stay off the streets and support his pregnant wife and young daughter. Dennis (the very powerful John David Washington) is a black police officer trying to use his job to be part of the solution despite the racial discrimination he himself faces. Zyric (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. with a calm belying his inner turmoil) is a young black man on his way to a Major League Baseball contract, but his life is shaken by what is going on in his neighborhood.
I only point out their races because it is important in a story set in motion by the death of a black man at the hands of a white cop. Three men in very different places in their lives are used to show how the division between the police and the citizens they are supposed to be serving affects a community and, by extension, our entire society. This is about race, but not in the same way films like BlacKkKlansman and Blindspotting are. It is not confrontational or looking to make a statement. It is a measured look at some of the forms racism can take and the toll it has taken on police departments and communities.
Monsters and Men (90 minutes without the end credits) never delves into melodrama. It treats its subject with the respect and sensitivity it deserves. Keeping the plot a step removed from the central event and focusing on people adds context, but the individual stories are more vignettes than they are fully fleshed out character studies. While it is a compelling look at the wider effect an incident such as this has, it lacks real emotional impact. I liked the performances and the approach. It certainly engaged me intellectually. But its repetition of ideas makes it feel a little like a lecture at times.
3½ out of 5
Anthony Ramos as Manny
John David Washington as Dennis
Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Zyric
Chanté Adams as Zoe
Nicole Beharie as Michelle
Written and Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green