TOThough screened at the 2018 Sundance film festival, the gritty Harlem Monster-set drama about a black teenager swallowed up by a cruel legal system is still just as timely in 2021, a tale of a bleak situation that would likely feel just as relevant. in another three or even six years later. It is strange that it has gathered dust for so long, minus a sign of its quality and full cast (many of whom have grown in stature since then) and more perhaps from the moment of its premiere, along with two other dramas that cover a stark ground. similar (Blindspotting and Monsters and Men), being eaten up by an industry that is still only willing to give black stories a small slice of the pie.
There was a failed release attempt in 2019 by a theatrical distributor (who wanted to change the name to All Rise, which was thankfully reversed) but now it’s landing where many hard-traveling movies end up landing: Netflix, an overloaded house. that will give you at least the widest possible audience. It’s one of the streamer’s gloomiest movies in recent times, as well as one of the most managed, given that it was an acquisition rather than a true original, and will duly make a more distracting distraction for those who end up watching, a little gem hidden in the haystack.
Much of the film’s brilliance can be attributed to a reliably powerful central performance by Kelvin Harrison Jr, whose work to date has continually demonstrated him as one of the most impressive and dominant young actors working today, equally devastating in the world. dystopian horror It Comes At Night. , the high school thriller Luce, and the substance-style melodrama Waves. Firing full blast once more (remember my words: you’ll have an Oscar in the next decade for something), Harrison Jr plays Steve, a working student at an elite school, who is charged with an accessory to murder, a warehouse robbery gone wrong (led by an acquaintance played by A $ AP Rocky and his cousin played by John David Washington) that leaves his owner shot dead. Steve is accused of policing, but maintains his innocence, even if members of the system are quick to label him guilty.
The title refers to the opening statement made by the prosecutor and how he chooses to label Steve, based on an alleged guilt that is not only the result of his position within the courtroom, but also due to Steve’s race, the idea that a 17- one year old black man is somehow inherently barbarian. It’s the same assumption that has led to countless state-sanctioned killings or incarcerations, based less on the facts of the case and more on the fear that surrounds him and Monster cleverly avoids looking at the frustration of the political to focus on the horror of the personal. How scary would each stage of this process be for a teenager? Aside from the heartbreaking practicalities of life in prison, how would an already mentally fractured time as a teenager break under this new lens? And how would one begin to see oneself? The trick for Steve and his attorney (an effectively underrated Jennifer Ehle) is to make him human to the jurors, rather than the stereotype as they see him. Perhaps depressingly, that same trick holds true for first-time director Anthony Mandler, who works against members of the public who might come into the movie and the situation with similar baggage.
Based on the award-winning young adult novel of the same name by Walter Dean Myers, Monster is a legal drama less about the twists and turns of the case and more about the nuances of a setting that many would be too quick to judge. The credibly messy details of what happened and what led to it are difficult to explain to a system that demands a strict black-and-white response (Steve refers to the grays in the middle in his voice-over) and the script, co-written. by The 40 Radha Blank, a year-old version, does a great job of using a micro-example to show a macro problem. It is also a film about the hopelessness of trying to make others see you as you see yourself when prejudice deprives you of a fair trial, whether in or out of a courtroom. Making Steve the son of well-to-do parents living in a luxurious brownstone, attending a high school, is an ingenious touch, as when it comes to the culture that surrounds him, none of that privilege changes the way he that it is perceived on an instinctual level.
Harrison Jr’s heartbreaking journey from honors student to alleged accomplice is told in jagged chunks, jumping back and forth to the time before and after the fateful incident. The structure is effective at times (the jarring exuberance of a superbly captured New York summer and the muted grays of Steve’s cell and courtroom work well) but it also steals some scenes of drama, keeping us in the dark at times when those of us who are more informed. would have helped. While the script is often remarkably subtle, it is also remarkably clumsy (Tim Blake Nelson’s film teacher showing Steve and his Rashomon classmates before a discussion about truth is a choice) and the performances also range from the large (a stoic Jeffrey Wright long ago with a bit like his father) to the minor (Jennifer Hudson struggles to get excited like her mother).
In many ways, it is a minor, almost mundane story, with an ending that chooses small over big, but resonates enough, a silent scream in the dark, that can now be heard in living rooms around the world.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism