Monsters and Men is the award winning debut feature film written and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. An intelligent film about race that doesn’t just tackle the overt racism but the casual everyday racism. I felt it, cried at a moment and recognised so much on screen. It is refreshing and intelligent film with outstanding performances and striking scenes that linger long after the credits end.
Monsters and Men follows the story of three Black and Hispanic men navigating their lives in Brooklyn against the backdrop of and act of police brutality that leaves a seemingly innocent black man, Darius Larson, dead. The opening scene is that Dennis ( John David Washington) driving his car and singing along to the radio being pulled over by a cop. When he tries to tell the other cop that he too is a member of the force this is ignored. Manny (Anthony Ramos) , a hispanic who is married with a daughter and is turning his life around by getting a well paid job witnesses the police shooting Darius Larson and captures it on his phone. He is left with an unenviable decision: should he release the video online to get the truth out there, or as two rogue cops remind him that his life would be better if he looked the other way. The final chapter of the film picks up a little pace as we watch a teenager, Zyrick (Kelvin Harris Jr.) who is about to try out for the major league baseball league and turns from a passive bystander into activist following the shooting of Darius Larson.
Is is diverse/representative?
Absolutely! Films like this show why representation and diversity matter. In order to change the status quo and perceptions we have to diversify the roles that black people are shown in.
This film is by no means perfect and the section focusing on Zyrick is the weakest, it doesn’t hold the same power. It is risky in having a film that focuses on three different characters in sections that sort of passing the baton on in a relay race with no winners. However, this device does allow the director to examine the socio-economics, political divide and changing nature of masculinity across the different characters. Green also manages to side step the melodrama through the character of Dennis. He is a black police officer – so one of them if you like. The discussions around the dinner table with his wife’s friend stating: “I thought you were part of the solution”, as if one man can change anything. By the white police force he’s seen as a black man and by black friends he’s seen as black.The entire section featuring Dennis highlights the struggles that black people face – do they speak up and do the right thing thereby risking promotion or forget their humanity and say nothing.
The style and tempo of Monsters and Men is nuanced and even the cinematography keeps those soft hues. Actions are more powerful than words. This film is full of images that crystallize a message. None more powerful than when the characters of Manny and Dennis looking at each other through a two way mirror in the police station. Green’s presenting it without saying anything about it and this in turn leaves the audience space to breathe. Who are the monsters and who are the men?
Twenty years on from Do The Right Thing by Spike Lee, this film is restrained some could even argue passive but, there is no right way to talk about race just that we need to. Green comes close to giving us a view at the end with the baseball player and that is probably why it feels out of place. The power of the film is its uncomfortable silences and the difficult questions it poses and there is no neat Hollywood ending. For too long people have been used to being spoon-fed what they should think and the specifics and it is exactly this kind of space and gaps that will lead to a conversation. Get ready to interact and discuss a film that feels so urgently needed. A smart and refreshing look at the race, masculinity and police brutality in 2018 – do the right thing and see this film.
Go and see it in cinemas, if we want more diverse and representative films then money and your bum on a seat counts. I would pay to see this film, yes even at London prices £14 (ahem) a ticket!
Monsters and Men is released in cinemas and on digital platforms across the UK on 18 January.