VOD film review: Monsters and Men
James R | On 19, Jan 2019
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cast: John David Washington, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Anthony Ramos
Watch Monsters and Men online in the UK: All 4 / Curzon Home Cinema / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Sky Store
“It would be a disservice to everyone.” That’s what two policeman tell Manny (Anthony Ramos) in Monsters and Men, after he films a tragically fatal act of police brutality on his phone. It’s a quietly spoken but towering threat from the force to one of the people they’re meant to protect: question the way of things and there are consequences. Monsters and Men is equally understated and powerful, as it dissects the uneasy lines between trust, race and justice in modern America.
Inspired by the appalling plethora of cases where unarmed Black men were shot by the police, this delicately composed piece explores the ripples that spread from the killing of a young African-American outside a corner shop. Writer and director Reinaldo Marcus Green approaches the aftermath from multiple perspectives, which build into a compelling, thought-provoking triptych: first, there’s Manny, the eyewitness deciding how to respond to what he saw; second, there’s Dennis (John David Washington), a police detective who’s on the verge of promotion; and third, there’s Zyrick (an impressive Kelvin Harrison Jr.) a baseball prodigy who finds himself caught up in student protests.
It’s a carefully balanced trio of tales, which bring poetry to the violent reality at the movie’s heart. That’s partly thanks to the excellent cast, each of whom are so understated that the film borders on documentary-like realism. Harrison Jr. is excellent as a young person who finds himself unable not to do something in the face of injustice, but the stronger two thirds come before him, as we witness the internal conflicts of two men able to have a more direct impact on how the situation unfolds. Hamilton veteran Ramos, who impressed in A Star Is Born and She’s Gotta Have It, is wonderfully nuanced, as his would-be security guard is torn between loyalty to his friend and his family, looking at the footage on his mobile phone but unsure whether anyone else should see it too.
But there’s room in this 95-minute drama for the other side of the fence, as Green challenges us to empathise with the police involved in these events too. That’s made possible by BlacKkKlansman’s Washington, who emerges as the heart of the film, showing us how difficult it is to police in a town where colleagues also place their lives on the line every day – and yet still finding himself, as a Black man undercover, pulled over by white officers every couple of weeks. Racism, rage and retribution all collide with urgent tension, but Monsters and Men doesn’t take the incendiary route, instead recalling Fruitvale Station as it cools things down to explore inner dilemmas and decisions without erupting into melodrama.
The stories are united by futures that hang in the balance, and the moments in which they cross from one protagonist to another reinforce the lack of communication and understanding between them. Yet Green’s camera flows smoothly through these streets and from one person’s problems to another’s peaceful stand, taking us on a lyrical tour of three very connected human lives – lives that are shaped by hatred and fear, but also full of humanity and hope. It doesn’t do a disservice to any of them.
Monsters and Men is available on All 4 until 14th April 2021.