Monsters And Men feels almost supernaturally contemporary, not because of the issues it explores — racist profiling, unjust killings caught on camera and social media-fuelled street protests — but because it dives into the conversation around such events. Today’s generation feels particularly politically charged, activism pronounced and pervasive, and Monsters And Men isn’t interested in the immediate implications of events as much as it is the way in which those looking on, from up-close or afar, factor such events into their own lives, navigating how they eat away at their psyches.
To present different angles, debut feature writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green goes episodic, following three people as they size up the death of an unarmed black man (no doubt inspired by Eric Garner) at the hands of white NYPD cops. Green delves deep into the grey areas. The protagonists — an enraged bystander (Anthony Ramos) who films the killing, a cop (John David Washington) with a confused conscience, and a young man inspired to take a stand (Kelvin Harrison Jr) — all wrestle with the potential consequences of getting involved, their conflicts of interest challenged. It’s provocative stuff, prodding at us to ask ourselves how much we are willing to sacrifice in order to honour our moral compasses.
Stylish, considered filmmaking.
It’s a meditative exploration, with Pat Scola’s soft, warm cinematography enhancing Green’s compassion, and soulful, haunted performances across the board. Philosophically, it is cohesive. Narratively, it doesn’t hit so hard: there are hints that the strands might intertwine, but they barely do, and with the characters so well drawn, it feels like a loss when they each disappear, making way for the next just as their stories gather steam.
This anthology feel softens the blow, but Green is more interested in questions than answers. Monsters And Men tackles its issues thoughtfully, not going for tidy resolutions, and in that respect it feels appropriate. It is stylish, considered filmmaking.