Monsters and Men – TIFF18

Monsters and Men and director Reinaldo Marcus Green is my favourite discovery coming out of this festival.

Green gives us a film that shows us life in Harlem, beautiful colourful life in Harlem until it’s taken away far too soon for reasons that will never be enough. The film surrounds a cop shooting that is caught on film, and attempts to deal with some of the repercussions of it all. While prior films like Do The Right Thing and Fruitvale Station both are about the lead up, Green is far more interested in the aftermath of the tragedy. And how it affects the community as a whole.

The film reminds me of the structure that was in The Place Beyond The Pines, and while that film was more of a multi-generational story, here he showcases the community of Harlem. At first, we open with Manny (Anthony Ramos of Hamilton fame) as he is attempting to turn his life around and gets a new job so he can support his significant other alongside their daughter. One night as he’s out on a corner with his friends, 6 cops approach a store in which Darius (who was previously introduced as a kind member of the community, who also happens to sell cigarettes by the single) and while we never see the event, but due to “resisting arrest” he is fatally shot, and killed. Meanwhile, Manny records the entire event on his phone.

We never see the act of the shooting, because we don’t need to. The film is clearly inspired by Eric Garner who lost his life the same tragic way. Alongside many other African-Americans who were fatally and unjustly shot by the police. As a community of the world, we are far too privy to these situations that they never seem far fetched, but just as normal as the next. Reinaldo asks what some can barely think of, how do we move on from here?

Manny gets his job, but he feels completely frozen and ashamed that he isn’t coming forward with the video. He wants to, but his his girlfriend Marisol (Jasmine Cephas Jones, also from Hamilton) warns him about it, and unfortunately she is right. In our world, the innocent bystander faces more consequences than the actual police officer who committed the crime.

Speaking of the police, we have our second protagonist, Dennis as a police officer played by John David Washington who plays an officer again after his incredible take in BlackKklansman. This time we see the repercussions from within the force, or rather the lack of it. Yes, as we all would have expected, the officer behind the incident seems to get away from it, but as a police officer, he must deal with the understanding that he becomes part of the problem.

During one heated dinner, he partially defends the officer by stating that the public doesn’t have what it’s like during the heat of the moment. He must stand by his team, but it becomes harder and harder as more and more children and innocent bystanders are killed nearly daily.

And for the children, we have our last protagonist Zyric who is a baseball player prodigy, and he has an actual chance of getting out of the neighbourhood but is still apart of who he is. Kelvin Harrison Jr. (from It Comes at Night) plays Zyric with such complexion, it’s a beauty to watch him fight for himself. He battles with this identity as he tries to help out after the murder of Darius with rallies even though he should be getting ready for the big showcase of a game.

The film reminds me of The Place Beyond the Pines due to the way the story passes to the next. It’s the wonderful camerawork as well. Keeping most of our protagonists with a shallow depth of field, keeping them the focus on our story. We stay with them and suffer alongside them as they’re trying to continue.

Green never gives us an answer of what to do next, he can’t do so. But instead he offers a second suggestion other than just moving on and accepting it as a norm, but to unite. “I am Darius Lawson” the rally cries together, unifying them all together. It’s the only way the world can sort of move on, just by picking each other up.

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