Monsters and Men Review

January 20, 2018 Jeff Goldsmith

Earlier today I had the pleasure of seeing a really smartly written film about the sacrifices everyday folks make in the act of finding the courage to speak up.

First here’s a quick synopsis of what the film’s about from the 2018 Sundance guide:

One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed–Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice?

With a deep sense of humanity and a deft directorial hand, Reinaldo Marcus Green smartly reformulates the traditional construction of “protagonist” to magnify the power of perspective. Green tells the story of how the footage affects the lives of three upstanding men in Bed–Stuy—a young father striving to support his new family, an African American cop dealing with the fallout of his colleague’s mistake, and a star high school athlete who becomes politicized by the incident. Each man is very different, but they equally feel the urgency of the question they must all face: should I take moral action or remain safely on the sidelines? Green provokes viewers to ask themselves the same question.

Without a doubt writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green has delivered not only a timely film, but a timeless film in sense that the story of personal sacrifice for everyday people who find the courage to speak up against injustice is rarely told this well.

As a script, Green pulled a helluva trick whereby he split his narrative into three sections with three different protagonists essentially one taking the baton after the other and by doing so, Green gave audiences a broader look into the community.

What’s most evocative about Green’s script is that as an artist he asks all the right questions of his characters when they’re put to the test. The witness who filmed the unarmed killing by brazen police officers just started a new job and has a baby on the way – how will posting the video affect him and his family? The cop on the force is a do-gooder (he picks up his own trash when he misses a trash can). He knows he can do good inside the force but he’s a believer. So when it comes time for the cop to speak up against a fellow officer – will he? Finally we meet an up and coming baseball star, ready for his big league tryouts – he’s worked his entire life for this moment, but wants to speak up – can he?

The true brilliance is while Green tells us all we need know – he refuses to answer questions and furthermore asks more in the process. For instance the audience practically is never shown the video or the moment of the death of the unarmed man past seeing it at a distance. So it leaves us in a grey area as to just what happened because while the cop in question had a history – he was not wearing a body cam at the time, so only a blurry cell phone video at night from 15 feet away is left as evidence.

Exposition is often done silently, visually and Green gives us just enough to keep us engaged, but never enough to tire us out.

The performances were all tops and during the Q&A afterwards at The Eccles theater, a few actors recalled their own run-ins with bad cops who made a difference on their lives. Those real life experiences made each scene count for them.

Green’s direction was on point. He was never scared to just lock off a camera behind two characters and let them have a late night chat on the edge of the bed. We only see part of their faces – and there’s a voyeursitic feel to this intimate moment. His direction of his cast had a raw feeling to it as if he was channeling their energy into exactly what the script demanded of them and not an iota more. Aside from all the above attributes – great cinematography and editing was complimented with a fantastically classy score.

Monsters and Men has an urgency to it as we see a crime committed against an unarmed man and a community slowly but surely reach out to help each other and call out for justice. When it finally does get a release, and it will, don’t miss it.

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Learn more about the filmmakers from the 2018 Sundance Guide:

Reinaldo Marcus Green

Reinaldo Marcus Green, a native New Yorker, is a writer, director, and producer. He earned his graduate degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and he participated in the 2017 Sundance Institute Directors and Screenwriters Lab. Green’s short film Stone Cars premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and he was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film after his short film Stop premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Cast & Credits

Director:  Reinaldo Marcus Green

Producers: Elizabeth Lodge Stepp / Josh Penn / Eddie Vaisman / Julia Lebedev / Luca Borghese

Executive Producers: Leonid Lebedev / Oren Moverman / Chiara Bernasconi / Charles Miller

Director of Photography: Patrick Scola

Editors: Justin Chan / Scott Cummings

Production Designer: Scott Dougan

Casting Director: Avy Kaufman

Costume Designer: Begoña Berges

Composer: Kris Bowers

Principal Cast: John David Washington / Anthony Ramos / Kelvin Harrison Jr. / Chanté Adams / Nicole Beharie / Rob Morgan