I attended the showing of independent drama film, Monsters and Men (Reinaldo M. Green, 2017), on Sunday December 2nd. The film played as part of an Indie Series at the Woodland Celebration! Cinema. This was one of many films part of the Indie Series. I chose to see Monsters and Men, in particular, because of the content and subject it focuses on: police brutality, specifically against minorities. As this is a pressing issue, one which drastically needs resolving, I am seeking any and all exposure to others’ perspectives. Monsters and Men is the first independent film I have seen, and it was definitely a new experience for me. Green indeed provided a new way of presenting the issue to me and many others. Overall, I think his film had many incredible and creative shots which allowed the message to shine.
Reinaldo Green, originally from New York, is not only a director but also a writer. He Is a graduate of NYU Tisch Graduate Film School and named one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2015. Monsters and Men is his most recent film, though he has created and directed many more. In 2015, he premiered his short film, Stop, at Sundance and the year before that he premiered Stone Cars at Festival de Cannes. After doing some research, I found that police brutality and profiling is a common theme in his films. Stop, for example, is about a young man who gets profiled and stopped by the police on his way home from practice. This is very similar to an event that happens in Monsters and Men. Before I get into the film though, I should discuss the venue.
Monsters and Men played in one of the many theaters at Celebration! Cinema Woodland. For a majority of us in the area, this is the most common experience we have when seeing a new film. The theater is generic, carpeted, filled with dark red seats. The walls have long vertical lights on each side of the room, and the air smells of buttery popcorn and ranch dressing, both of which I stepped in in the cinema lobby. After finding our seats, I looked around and realized I could count the number of people in the theater on just one hand. It was a Sunday afternoon which is either not prime time for movie-going or shows how little audience the independent films have.
In order to form a complete reaction to this film, I thought it was important to talk not only about the film itself, but also the previews which played before it began. Though the previews are in no way connected to Monsters and Men, they still create emotions in us which have the potential to affect how we interpret the main act which follows. The first preview was for the upcoming movie, Welcome to Marwen (Robert Zemeckis, 2018). This is a drama/fantasy film which features Steve Carell and Leslie Mann. The preview invoked hope for an underdog, overall leaving you inspired to be yourself. The next was for Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018), a drama/comedy. The plot, also inspiring, focuses on a world-class African-American pianist (Mahershala Ali) embarking on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962. He hires a driver/protector (Viggo Mortensen) to travel with him, which is where the story begins. The rest of the previews have similar themes of minority empowerment and bravery. These emotions are what I carried with me at the start of Monsters and Men, which is not a bad place to be emotionally.
Monsters and Men follows the stories of two young men in Brooklyn, New York. The first, Manny (Anthony Ramos), witnesses an unarmed black man get shot by police officers one night outside his own store. He catches the horrible act on video then struggles with what he should do with the tape. Post it online or keep his mouth shut like the police asked him to? He has a young daughter and another on the way, so he has a lot at stake if there is retaliation. The second young man, Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), is an African-American high school baseball player, hoping to be scouted for a college team. He not only watches the video Manny taped after coming across it online, but is also stopped and searched by the police for no reason walking home one night. Both of these events cause him to get involved in the issue of police brutality and racial profiling. The third main character is probably the most interesting aspect of the film for me. Officer Dennis Williams (John David Washington), an African-American police officer brings an interesting perspective to the debate of police brutality in the film. From his character, we were not only able to see minorities being singled out by authority, but also minorities holding positions of power. Williams had multiple encounters with both Manny and Zyrick, all of which let us better understand his character and conclude how situations, like those in the film, are messy, often without a clear solution.
The turning point in the film is when Manny video tapes an unarmed African-American man getting shot outside his store by police. Before the gun fires, the scene is chaotic and loud, then all of a sudden a gunshot goes off. We don’t see exactly what happens, only Manny taping it and the expressions he has. My heart was pounding as Manny’s shock and horror became my own. Green successfully carries this feeling of shock throughout the rest of the film, despite never actually showing us the video of the shooting. We instead see each character’s face as they watch the video for the first time. We feed off their emotions and feel the power of the video. For example, when Zyrick first watches the video, there is a close up on his face. It is glowing neon from the screen light which illuminates his stillness and terror as he watches. It is an incredibly powerful technique used by Green.
Obviously, Monsters and Men has a direct relationship to the #BlackLivesMatter movement by revealing the emotions from both sides of the issue, the police and the victims. The film points out that the line between police officers and those fighting for racial justice is blurred. Officer Williams’ character showed that well, as he advocated both for doing what needed to be done as an officer and valuing everyone’s life. Additionally, Zyrick participates in actions which directly remind us of what we have seen on the news in terms of police brutality. There is a specific scene where Zyrick goes to participate in a peaceful protest against this brutality, and the actions the protestors take are passionate as they stand united. One of the symbols of unity, both in the film and in the real world is holding a fist in the air to represent black power. This was an iconic shot in Monsters and Men. The crowd became so powerful as they faced the police officers and raised their fists.
At the end of Monsters and Men, we were left with a feeling of non-resolution, as one of the characters remained in jail. Though this was, in a way, dissatisfying, it was realistic. Green is trying to show us the problem has not been fixed. There is work to be done, but through unity much can be accomplished. Overall, watching my first full independent film was a success. Monsters and Men is complex and emotional, providing a new perspective to the issue of police brutality and racial profiling.