January 7, 2019

Monsters and Men review: An evocative yet honest take on police brutality

By Katie Smith-Wong

Marking the debut directorial feature of Reinaldo Marcus Green, Monsters and Men revolves around how three different men in Brooklyn – Manny (Anthony Ramos), policeman Dennis (BlackKklansman‘s John David Washington) and student Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) – are affected by a police shooting in their neighbourhood.

Monsters and Men is part of a stream of recent films that focus on the controversial theme of police brutality against African-Americans. While features such as The Hate U Give and forthcoming drama If Beale Street Could Talk are from the perspective of a close acquaintance, Monsters and Men provide outlooks from those unconnected to the victim to highlight the social effects amid the aftermath.

As the only witness to the shooting, Manny is an integral character. Although he records the event, it takes place off-screen, which cleverly builds the intrigue as what really occurs is left open for debate. Despite this, his version of the events puts the film into motion as we are left to rely on the characters’ interpretations of the incident – and with three viewpoints into consideration, Monsters and Men becomes a multifaceted tale.

While Manny risks his family’s safety by becoming an inadvertent target for the police, Dennis feels his loyalty is conflicted between his race and his job. Already a victim of institutional racism in the police, he takes a professional outlook on the incident by almost rationalising the behaviour of his colleagues. It is not until a friend directly confronts him that he realises that he is not just a cop – he is also an African-American, and his allegiance may be misplaced.

In the final narrative, we see Zyrick heavily encouraged by his father Will (Rob Morris) to become a major baseball player. Although he might come across as a pushy parent, it is apparent that Will has become accustomed to the local racial tensions and that his son has a chance to escape it. This is endangered as Zyrick becomes politicised from the event, throwing him into the violence that his father tried so hard to isolate him from.

Monsters and Men review: conclusions

Both expressive and subtle, the three lead male performances allow the contemplative script and sensitive direction to shine. Behind the camera, Green cleverly structures the narrative to encourage audiences to see the bigger picture and show that when it comes to incidents such as these, it’s not always black and white.

Thanks to Patrick Scola’s unrefined yet stunning cinematography, the moral compasses of each character is especially tested due to their respective family ties, and audiences can’t avoid the emotional aftermath of racially motivated incidents involving the police.

Overall, Green makes his mark by creating an evocative, powerful yet brutally honest feature that boasts endearing performances from its three leads.

Monsters and Men will be in UK cinemas from 18th January.