#TIFF18 Review - "Monsters & Men" Tackles Complex Storytelling in the #BlackLivesMatter Era

“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” - Nina Simone

Film has always been a canvas for day to day realities - and in 2018 it is becoming more prominent. With films like Blindspotting, Blackkklansman, and The Hate U Give securing their place among the wave of social justice and race related features - Monsters and Men sets to standout on its own.

Written and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, Monsters and Men challenges the audience to step back and view the perspectives of 3 young men as the fallout of a fatal shooting of an unarmed black man sends a ripple effect through each one of their lives.

The three men at the center are played by Anthony Ramos (She’s Gotta Have It, A Star is Born), John David Washington (Blackklansman, Ballers) and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Assassination Nation, Shots Fired). With each character comes a different story that is weaved within each others narrative.

Manny (Ramos) is in the early stages of a new career with a wife and child to support. When he becomes a key witness in the shooting (with a cellphone video as evidence) he must decide if he should release it to the public and risk becoming a target for law enforcement. Dennis (Washington) deals with the aftermath of the shooting as his position as a black police officer comes under fire by his friends and the public. Zyric (Harrison, Jr.), a young baseball prospect, has his future shaken when the shooting alters his views on life and what’s important.

Since Monsters and Men focuses on the different viewpoints of each character, the film allows each narrative to have a voice. One of the most intriguing story lines is Washington’s character. His role as a police officer offers a look into the extreme complexities of being a black cop in today’s world. The film does not hold back when addressing the tension between minorities and police, but it also, in my opinion, does a fair job in showing the opposite perspective through Washington’s character. It can be very hard to step back and see things through someone else’s POV (especially when that POV has been the subject of much pain and suffering.) However, the film manages to find a perfect balance.

Often times we don't get to see the fallout of traumatic events like an unarmed shooting. We never hear the stories of the loved ones who were effected or how an entire community heals from it. Monsters and Men allows those stories to be heard through the eyes of Manny and Zyric - 2 men of color whose lives are deeply impacted by the shooting and must decide to whether to confront the injustice - to the detriment of their future. I'm happy that these story lines were in the film, because it's such a realistic dilemma for many who decide to dedicate their lives to activism.

On top of everything, the film is visually stunning. The movie plays around with its visual work by blurring and re-focusing the camera, to give you that shift of perspective. With beautiful close-up shots and stunning cinematography, the film is artful and crafted with so much care and attention to detail.

With an immensely talented cast that deliver incredible performances, Monsters and Men is truly a great. I appreciate that the film never talks down to the audience or bogs them down with a preachy commentary. Instead it allows you to absorb the stories and feel however they want to feel. It wants to open an honest dialogue - something that I feel is the film's biggest strength.

Monsters and Men is now in theaters.