Monsters and Men


The aftermath of a police killing of a black man, 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.

A hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s ‘Monsters and Men’ is a thoughtful drama that explores the impact of a police shooting of a black man on three individuals affected by the incident. The film is split into three half hour segments focusing on each character, neatly linked together with the characters briefly appearing within the other leads individual chapters. Those three characters are Manny (Anthony Ramos), a young latino man who films the shooting on his mobile phone, Dennis  (John David Washington), a black police officer dealing with the fallout, and Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a talented young athlete impacted by the situation.

It’s an understated and personal piece of work, driven by strong character work and good writing and it reminded me of ‘Fruitvale Station’ in how it drew power from the portrayal of ordinary lives being impacted by tragedy. Besides the shooting at the beginning, there are no big dramatic moments, just quiet resolutions to the personal stories the film sets out to tell. I liked that the narrative was even handed and choose to spend some of its time exploring the situation from the point of view of a police officer (albeit one not involved in the shooting) to give a different perspective. It’s aided by a powerful performance from John David Washington, who effectively portrays a man caught in the middle between his job and his community. I felt the last segment focusing on Zyrick was less effective, perhaps as his character was more removed from the inciting incident and my interest started to wane, but the first two segments were focused and powerful.

The film explores the situations these men find themselves in as they ponder whether they should take action, even as it may affect them adversely, and in turn it forces the viewer to question how they would react in the same scenario. ‘Monsters and Men’ is a quietly moving portrait of life for a person of colour in modern day America and I felt its reflective exploration of how a police shooting can ripple through a community was effectively portrayed through strong performances and smart direction. This is an impressive debut from Reinaldo Marcus Green, exploring topical issues with a measured approach and I’ll be interested to see what he does next.

Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Rob Morgan, Chante Adams, Nicole Beharie, Jasmine Cephas Jones and Cara Buono

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