Monsters and Men: A sure-footed study of racial disharmony

Review: Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s debut offers no easy answers

Chanté Adams and Kelvin Harrison jnr

Film Title: Monsters and Men

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

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

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 95 min

Fri, Jan 18, 2019, 05:00

   

Reinaldo Marcus Green’s thought-provoking debut feature concerns an incident in which an unarmed black man is shot dead by police on a Brooklyn street corner. There are obvious parallels between Monsters and Men and the Eric Garner case, but Green isn’t interested in a straight-up procedural.

His film unfolds as a triptych, in which each segment chronicles a compromised, complex set of ethics and concerns.

Dennis (John David Washington) is a black New York police officer. An early encounter with a traffic cop demonstrates that he’s more than aware of the systemic prejudices that exist in his workplace, but he’s equally aware that he and his colleagues are forced to make impossible decisions everyday.

His African-American friends expect him to take a stand when Big D (Samel Edwards), a harmless hustler who sells loose cigarettes outside a Bedford-Stuyvesant deli, is shot and killed. The same incident is recorded by Manny (Anthony Ramos) on his phone.

Manny is a former felon hoping to make a new life for himself and his young family. Uploading the video is the right thing to do but it can only jeopardise his precarious situation. The third story concerns Zee (Kelvin Harrison jnr), a promising high-school baseball star.

When the youngster is harassed by cops on the street, he ignores his father’s advice to keep his head down, and becomes involved with activists, led by local firebrand Zoe (Chanté Adams).

Green’s quietly ambitious, engrossing film is powered along by terrific central turns from Washington and Ramos, its winning approximation of verité and Kris Bowers’ slyly building score.

There are no answers here, easy or otherwise, only dilemmas and counterpoints. A remarkably sure-footed first film from writer-director Green.