Monsters and Men – Film Review by Aisling Foster
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Writer: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Stars: Chanté Adams, Giuseppe Ardizzone, Nicole Beharie
As they say in the movie biz: ‘No events in this story are true’. Yet in Monsters and Men, they cut painfully close to the bone. Written and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, these stories are the everyday experiences of black residents of poor U.S. city neighbourhoods like the film’s Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Racism hovers over every police encounter, making NYPD harassment, humiliation and death a very real possibility for anyone there who drives, wears a hoodie or resists arrest.
Events kick off with a police shooting of a much-loved local character on a street corner – a fraught, confused scene which sunny young Hispanic, Mannie (Anthony Ramos) captures on his mobile phone. When excuses and official cover-ups follow, Mannie posts his video online, igniting a fire of fear and resentment which will wreck his own future and raise uncomfortable questions about responsibility and reaction throughout his community.
Dennis, a black Brooklyn cop (a standout performance by John David Washington) and Zyrik, (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) a promising young baseball star, react to the growing tension in two very different ways. They never meet, but, as we see in some brilliantly succinct scenes, both are all too well acquainted with everyday racism. Dennis, torn between mistrust from colleagues, and challenges to speak out from his friends and family, is put under pressure to rally behind the two rogue white cops who have sparked all the trouble. Zyrik, on the other hand, is in training for a game which could lead him to big-league stardom. A political innocent, he is gradually drawn towards the demonstrations in the streets, much to the despair of his adoring father who sees a contract with a top club as the boy’s ticket out.
Despite its serious content, the film is absorbing and beautiful. Subtle camerawork pulls us inside the heads of three very different individuals, each of whom must decide for himself how to respond to this latest injustice too far. Always, their anger is hidden, held down behind John David Washington’s huge eyes swivelling across his deadpan face, or in Zyrik’s body-language during a humiliating stop and search.
And if all this sounds a bit too black-and-white, it isn’t. Apart from everyone’s over-sweet home lives, the debate is never one-sided. When two white cops are killed the dangers of police work become clear. As do the questions voiced in the background throughout the movie, querying behaviours which inevitably raise the ante between people and police. But this is not just a US problem. More aggressive law-enforcement tactics are being inflicted everywhere, and the death rate in police hands is rising around the world. So, when a woman friend asks Dennis if he would kill her if she resisted arrest, she nails the problem right on his door. He says No – of course – but like his friends at the dinner table, I left feeling quite nervous.