Monsters and Men (Reinaldo Marcus Green, 2018) 4 out of 4 stars.
A filmic triptych of intersecting lives in a Brooklyn neighborhood riven by the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man, Monsters and Men evokes powerful emotions with remarkable narrative economy. Like another film on a similar subject, The Hate U Give (also opening this week), director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s debut feature offers a topical, present-day drama peopled by interesting, multidimensional characters. Unlike that other movie, however, Monsters and Men chooses subtlety over broad strokes, resulting in an even more effective treatment of America’s racist past and present. Looking for a mature, vibrant and artfully constructed discussion of one of the pressing issues of our time? You’ve found it.
Anthony Ramos (Mars Blackmon on Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It), John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (It Comes at Night) star as the film’s three protagonists: Manny, Dennis and Zyric, respectively. Manny is an aspirational twentysomething, looking for a job in Manhattan to support his wife and young daughter. One night, out with his pals, he films the police as they shoot a local man. When he uploads the video to the internet, he becomes a target, himself, of police repression. Dennis is a cop, who when we first meet him, off duty, is pulled over by a fellow member of the NYPD for driving while black. While one might think this would give him some sympathy for the victim of the shooting, the truth is more complicated. Finally, Zyric – or Z, as he is known – is a brilliant high-school baseball player, about to be recruited to play big-time ball. Attracted to the young woman organizing protests against police brutality, he soon becomes personally engaged in the resistance. Together, each character offers different perspectives on the challenges of being a person of color in the United States.
Every shot counts here. Green, working with cinematographer Patrick Scola (And Then I Go), knows just where to point the camera when and why. Monsters and Men marks an auspicious start to what we can only hope is a long career. In addition, all three characters hold our attention as they grapple with their responses to the tragedy, the director allowing them ample time to think on screen. What choices they have are not easy, made even harder by the tint of their skin. Gripping throughout, this work of profound cinema should be seen, savored and celebrated.