Review: Monsters and Men (TIFF 2018)

Monsters and Men (TIFF 2018)
7 10

PLOT: A police shooting has unexpected consequences on the lives of three men.

REVIEW: MONSTERS AND MEN was one of the most talked about movies to play Sundance in January, but as often happens at a festival like this, my schedule did not permit me to see it. Being one of the opening night movies at TIFF this year (with no less than hometown hero Drake rumoured to be showing up in support), I made it a point to catch-up with this buzzed about movie, which is set to be released by Neon at the end of the month.

Very much a movie concerned with Black Lives Matter, this is a strong, uncompromising but also open hearted effort that resits the urge to paint everyone with the same brush. The victim himself, a local figured named Big D only gets a brief introduction and it's not so much about the effect his actual death has, but rather the system that kicks in to protect the officer involved (who’s never shown on screen).

This is done using an episodic structure, being divided into three neat sections, each of which focuses on a different man effected by the shooting. The most directly involved is the first man, Manny (Anthony Ramos), who captures the shooting on camera and must decide whether or not going public is worth the risk to his family and his freedom, with him having some ambiguous connection to a later-revealed crime that he may or may not be guilty of (the film lets us make up our own mind). Ramos is a compelling figure, but he gets short-changed in terms of depth by the other two stories, and his plot never gets a satisfying resolution.

The second story will likely be the most celebrated, given that it stars John David Washington, fresh off his turn in BLACKkKLANSMAN, as a cop who’s torn between loyalty to his department and his community, with neither choice being presented as clear cut. The cops, with the exception of two flunkies associated with the shooter, are presented sympathetically, and when two officers are gunned-down later in the film, it’s presented as a tragedy. Washington is superb, with this being further evidence that he has real star power, and it’s by far the most effective and nuanced segment, thanks in large part to his performance.

The film is wrapped up by a third episode focusing on a local athlete (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who’s on his way to a pro career, but has to make some tough decisions, not helped by the fact that his loyalty to his dad, a long-time cop, is tested. Harrison made a big splash in IT COMES AT NIGHT and he’s great in what should be a topical story, with it exploring themes that are very much in the headlines now, especially with the controversy around Colin Kaepernick.

My only real issue with MONSTERS AND MEN is that by splitting the focus, you get the feeling that you’re watching three mini-movies instead of one really satisfying feature. They could have connected the stories a little more, and maybe played with the structure a bit to cross back and forth between the plots instead of being so linear. Even still, it’s an effective film that should get a lot of attention and the acting is spot-on perfect.

Source: JoBlo.com



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