The enablement of recording footage. Mobile phones capturing those precious moments that we relish compiling together and perhaps replay in times of despair, to raise us up in our darkest hours. So often looking to broaden their reach and embrace our nearest and dearest in these joyous snippets, through the Twitter’s and Instagram’s of this world. In this instance? Seemingly harmless. And yet what do we do in moments of sheer terror? Is it considered too gratuitous to open other’s eyes to such violence, despite the innocent hasn’t dared provoke such an abhorrent reaction? Can we truly appreciate the ramifications of unleashing such footage upon the world? Are we ultimately complicit in such injustice that follows?
This is the strong and sadly still socially relevant question posed by director Reinaldo Marcus Green in this provocative and keenly observed portrait of a vibrant Brooklyn community, in the troubled aftermath of a tragic shooting of a young African-American teen. We become engrossed in the character trajectories of three men, beginning with Anthony Ramos’ Manny. His pearly whites regularly beaming thanks to his newfound job security. The crystal white of his workplace a visual metaphor for him being a ‘blank canvas’ as his moral compass is thoroughly examined, not wanting to tarnish the purity of his family life.
The figure who films that fateful scene, allowing director Green to broaden the scope with John David Washington’s police officer Dennis, subtly hinting at his own questioning of a police department predominantly made up of white officers. A slight tug of a grey t-shirt as he’s pulled over. Subdued looks that pierce the screen as he drives past fellow black men being searched on the streets. Deeply affected by the ferocity etched across the faces of those traumatised, rounded off by the dilemma of Kelvin Harrison Jr’s Zyrick who is inspired to act against the wishes of his Dad, as he seeks a career in baseball.
A subject matter that quite rightly provokes unbridled anger, in a time the activist movement ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaigns furiously against such systemic abuse. Monsters And Men is surprisingly considered and rational in its approach for much of its lean running time, mostly keeping a lid on such a feeling overpowering its intended message.
However, its emotional wallop is far from diluted. Director Green’s direction subtly shifts between stunning stillness, like Ramos and Washington facing off in an interrogation room, unable to see one another. Likely questioning. Will our voices ever truly penetrate? Can we shatter that glass ceiling? To rapturous pans of its Brooklyn setting, capturing the communal spirit and warmth of its African-American contingent, caught up in the quiet storm of an unsettling reality.
Its assurance in tackling such material only echoes through the precision and power displayed by its leading men. He may have been the first African-American detective for 1970’s Colorado Springs in Blackkklansman. But this is a compelling companion piece for John David Washington in solidifying the deeply rooted issues that still plague society and the warped perception of authority that continues to be enforced, with his reluctant acceptance compelling. Whilst Anthony Ramos and Kelvin Harrison Jr collectively are the beating heart of this film, their naivety of youth subsiding in a time of crisis, allowing their distinctive and true voices to emerge in tender fashion.
Monsters And Men is not just black and white. It vigorously works within the grey areas of its protagonists’ hearts and minds, drawing out a strength in its arguments that is thoughtful and thought-provoking.
Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cast: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kevin Harrison Jr.