Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Monsters and Men

This wound up being a second choice - the signs at Park Street made it clear that I wouldn't get to Coolidge in time for what was playing there, so let's see what's playing at this T stop - but certainly a better one than most movies chosen based on "what's playing right now". It was also basically free - MoviePass is one of the presenters, and they're counting it as a bonus movie, so if you haven't abandoned that program yet, you can catch it without it counting against your three for the month.

Coincidentally, the last time I used that card/app was for BlacKkKlansman, and watching this one in relatively close proximity, I've gone from believing that John David Washington is a secret clone that Spike Lee had made from Denzel's DNA so that he could have the same star forever to thinking that there's just a strong family resemblance, although it's going to take a lot for me to not see him as Denzel Washington Jr. It's sometimes not so much that they look and sound a lot alike at times, but that the son has picked up some of his father's mannerisms, like how his character sounds when irritated here. That's no bad thing, though - there are far worse legacies to live up to!

I do kind of wonder if my feelings of ambivalence watching this had to do with the fact that a trailer for The Hate U Give played before it, which appears to cover the same subject (community fallout from a police shooting) but with a more specific, singular perspective. If nothing else, curiosity about that being the case has put that movie a little higher on my list for this weekend.

Monsters and Men

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 October 2018 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, digital)

I'm trying to get better about not judging movies exclusively on how effectively they tell a story, since the medium can do more, as well as just trying to absorb when shown things outside my own experience, no matter what the medium. It's a hard habit to break, or even bend, because Monsters and Men still had me fidgeting, like there's not much to it. It feels well-intentioned but unfocused, like the filmmakers had an idea but not a hook for the audience.

It doesn't open in a bad situation, introducing the audience to Manny Ortega (Anthony Ramos), a street hustler in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of New York City, although he's trying for something a little more stable so he can provide for his girlfriend Marisol (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their daughter. He's either in the right or wrong place at the wrong time when he sees some cops arresting Darius "Big D" Larson (Samel Edwards) while he's selling individual cigarettes, recording the incident on his phone and racing home when the shot is fired. He knows he'll have the police on his back if he posts it, but Big D was a neighborhood fixture and it wasn't right. The fallout from that decision is felt by everyone in the neighborhood, including Officer Dennis Williams (John David Washington), an African-American policeman in the 74th precinct who knows full well that not everyone is treated equally and has a hard time reconciling his ideals and practical considerations. Then there's Zyric (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a high-school baseball phenom who walks past the memorial to Big D on the way home, and while he knows it's probably wise to keep his head down, it eats at him, until he asks an activist classmate (Chanté Adams) what he can do to help.

Each of these stories takes up roughly a third of the movie, with writer/director Reinaldo Marcus Green moving from one point of view to another with hand-offs that emphasize how relatively isolated these stories are from each other (although it's also worth mentioning that both changes in perspective involve Dennis as a passive observer, something of a quiet indictment of how much good cops can or will do). It allows all three protagonists to take center stage for a while, all displaying an impressive ability to let the audience see their minds work. Anthony Ramos is especially interesting to watch as Manny; he seems more in flux from the start, his charisma and confidence tested in ways that the other characters aren't, hints of panic making him feel a little more threatened and unpredictable. It's a more active sort of performance, admittedly, than John David Washington and Kelvin Harrison Jr., but Washington does good work as the cop who oscillating between quietly and tensely holding his tongue, while Harrison and Chanté Adams capture the cool determination of the new generation of activist teens.

Full review at EFC.

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