Director Reinaldo Marcus Green highlights a story that we’ve all seen before, in films or in the news, and tells it in a completely unique way.
From the very beginning MONSTERS AND MEN raises its main issue: race, and how it’s seen in the eyes of the law. The film centres around three main characters—Manny (Anthony Ramos) who films the incident of Darius Larson’s death, Dennis Williams (John David Washington), an African-American police officer pressured to do what’s right by the force and Zyric (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) a teenager striving for his baseball career but deeply affected by the incident. All three characters battle with doing what’s right, and the possibility of losing the things that are most important to them.
One noticeable feature of the film is that viewers don’t see the death nor the footage. This takes power away from the violent act and gives it to the reaction of the characters and the local neighbourhood, with groups protesting and putting their own lives at risk to see change brought about. The cinematography also helps to create a sense of community with the camera, sweeping through the Brooklyn neighbourhood and showing its many residents.
Another important aspect to note is how Manny and Dennis are opposites but also the same. Both have young families, and are trying to protect their children, but where one hesitates to tell the truth, the other takes the leap. Viewers realise that making the decision to come forward and go against an organisation like the police is a difficult one to make, iterated in Dennis Williams’ line: “you see three minutes of a shaky video and you think you know what you’d do.” This contrast is also seen in the way the two funerals are held. Darius Larson’s funeral is minimal and low-lit. However, the funerals of the police officers killed are big affairs, with hundreds of fellow officers lining the streets dressed in their formal uniforms– emphasising the injustice even in death.
MONSTERS AND MEN captures the moment in time after police shootings happen. Audiences already know the history and they certainly know the present. But it’s about the journey of coming to consciousness and standing up for what is right, even when there are those who question your actions.