monsters and men

- Review by Sadhbh Hanna

Monsters and Men.jpg

The past year has been a great time for films involving the participation and/or representation of black individuals. Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, and If Beale Street Could Talk were all nominated for Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes, and Blindspotting and Sorry to Bother You shone through in the indie scene. Writer/Director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s first feature film Monsters and Men very much belongs in this category, sharing themes with many other films from the past year.

The film shows the aftermath of the shooting of a black man by a white cop from the point of view of three different characters, a young father, Manny, (Anthony Ramos) who witnessed and filmed the shooting, a black police officer, Dennis (John David Washington), and a teenage protester Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). The film is split into three separate half-hour stories that are loosely tied together by the shooting and supporting characters.

While I thought that this structure was an interesting way to tell a story, I wish they had been more connected, as the stories felt awkwardly detached from one another. Each ended so abruptly that it caused confusion. Just as I was getting invested in the Manny’s story, the film suddenly started following Washington’s character instead. I thought it might switch back and forth between the characters, but the Ramos is never seen again, leaving his story open-ended and feeling incomplete. And the two other stories ended the same way. I understand that leaving a story open-ended can be a useful technique to let the audience fill in their own ending, but in here it just left the characters underdeveloped. I was disappointing by this because I found the characters and their stories intriguing, and I would have loved to see more of them.

I think most of the problems of the film lie in the script. It’s not bad at all for it being Green’s first feature, but it’s evident that the story he was trying to tell and the point he was trying to make were not fully recognised through his lacklustre script. It’s not all bad though. The third segment, while still ending abruptly, contains a powerful scene where Zyrick, a high school baseball player, attends his first protest after being stopped by police while walking home from practice one night.

While some of the actors seem to struggle with the script, John David Washington and Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays Manny’s pregnant girlfriend, stand out with excellent performances that carry their scenes and the film. Even with a small amount of screen time due to the format of the film, their solid performances make up for the script problems, and add depth and emotion that is missing from some of the other sequences.

While the story is compelling, it’s hard to know what to take away from the film, which obviously had a point it wanted to get across. Maybe if Monsters and Men had come out in a different year, when its themes were fresh, and it wasn’t competing with so many other films, I would have thought about it differently. But after watching films that dealt with the same topics, with better scripts, Monsters and Men fell flat.