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Monsters and Men is an ambitious feature debut by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who presents his film with a finger on the pulse of our cultural climate. Set primarily in the aftermath of a black man being shot and killed by a police officer, Monsters and Men offers a gripping look at societal anger, which rightfully erupts in the wake of such tragic occurrences.

What the movie does well, and often quite powerfully, is show how three different people are affected and react to the shooting. First, Dennis (John David Washington), an African-American cop, struggles to make sense of what happened, while facing public backlash due to all cops being hated and blamed for the death.

“…he struggles with holding on to the video or posting it online.”

Manny (Anthony Ramos) has the film’s most compelling storyline. One night, he was out with his friends, gambling on the sidewalk and a couple of police cars pull up to start questioning them. “Don’t they have anything better to do on a Monday night?” Manny wonders. Things quickly escalate and Manny captures it all on his phone, including the actual shooting.

The man who was killed was Manny’s friend and he struggles with holding on to the video or posting it online. It clearly shows that his friend didn’t reach for the officer’s gun, as the newspaper headlines say. Manny is cornered by two officers, warning him to not cause any trouble, which only sparks Manny’s desire to share the video. He eventually does and it changes everything.

The last third of the film follows young Zee (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a high school baseball star on the cusp of being recruited. The news and video of the shooting change the way he looks at the world and the way he thinks the world looks at him. Baseball all of a sudden isn’t Zee’s primary focus. He gets involved with protest groups, attends marches, and demonstrations against the police.

“…is blunt with its message without being preachy…”

Green doesn’t connect all the stories like most would, but checks in and out with the characters, living their own lives. His structure is occasionally potent but sometimes leaves storylines lacking. While we know what lies ahead for these characters, some of their stories feel incomplete.

Monsters and Men is blunt with its message without being preachy, which helps it to be more effective. Even when the movie feels leans into heavy-handedness, Green skillfully pulls us back into these worlds. It’s a daring task to take on as a first-time feature director and he does so admirably.

Monsters and Men (2018) Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Written by Reinaldo Marcus Green. Starring John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. Monsters and Men had its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: B

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