A talented teen implicated in a robbery-turned-murder fights for his innocence and integrity against a criminal justice system that’s already judged him.
Runtime: 1hr 39m
Director: Anthony Mandler
Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle, Tim Blake Nelson, Nasir ‘Nas’ Jones, Rakim Mayers, Paul Ben-Victor, John David Washington, Jharrel Jerome, Dorian Missick
Information Page: https://www.newonnetflix.info/info/81121351
In the opening scenes of “Monster” we see a terrified young man being processed into jail. Young and clearly naïve about the whole process, it is clear that we, the viewer, are supposed to feel sorry for this person. This person, is turns out, is 17 year old Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and he has been arrested and charged with the murder of a shopkeeper. There is very little going on in these opening scenes but also a lot to actually take in. Harrison Jr. plays his part incredibly well and has all the right facial expressions and mannerisms to portray his character’s feelings without needing to drag out a scene or rely on a narrator or on-screen text. You can look at him and know what’s going on. It was this opening scene that instantly got me hooked and wanting to find out more about what happened.
And we do find out more. I mean, it would be a pretty rubbish film if it ended after just a few minutes with no outcome. The film uses the common trope of interspersed flashbacks to tell us the background of what happened. This is in no way a bad thing and I particularly like how they are handled in “Monster”. Steve is an aspiring photographer and filmmaker whose main subjects are his girlfriend and any locals he happens across. He also enjoys playing with different, natural light effects. The flashbacks are predominantly ‘pre-recorded’ – either footage from Steve’s phone with various video effects (I particularly like the retro 4:3 VHS style with poor tracking) or CCTV footage, with the occasional shot of Steve creating that video. It works well to tell his story and to highlight the fact that he’s a ‘good kid’ and that the his arrest and court case and so incredibly alien to him.
It doesn’t take long until we get to the court case and, again, director Anthony Mandler wastes no time dragging the story out. We see a whole day of court condensed into a montage of quick fire quips and quotes from both the prosecution and the defence – it is quite frantic at times but it does a good job of conveying the confusion and worry that Steve is likely feeling.
There is a lot of ‘back and forth’ throughout the film but it is in no way confusing. As the film progresses we learn more about Steve and what happened on the day that lead to his arrest and the court scenes do then become more intense and less rushed. We see more of how the whole situation is affecting Steve and his family and how society may see him as a monster. And we also find out what happened on that fateful day…
Overall I really enjoyed “Monster”. It was cleverly written, the acting was excellent, the use of visual effects on the video footage made it interesting to watch as well as adding depth to the characters. The ending, too, almost had me in tears – and I don’t get emotional at films! I do think that one of the main things I enjoyed about the film was that it wasn’t a clear cut, black and white story. It’s nuanced and, quite possibly, loses some of its mass appeal because of this – but in my opinion, this makes it a better film.
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