ADespite being screened at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, the Harlem Monster drama drama about a black teenager engulfed by a cruel legal system, remains just as timely in 2021, a tale of a grim situation that would likely be everything. also relevant in another three or even six years later. Strange that he’s been gathering dust for so long, less a sign of his quality and cast (many of whom have grown up since) and more possibly the timing of its premiere, nestled alongside two other dramas. covering roughly similar terrain (Blindspotting and Monsters and Men), finding itself engulfed by an industry always ready to give black stories a small slice of the pie.
There was an aborted attempt to release in 2019 from a theatrical distributor (who wanted to fadingly rename it All Rise, something which has thankfully been reversed) but now this is the landing where many hard-traveling movies end. by landing: Netflix, an overcrowded house that will at least give it the widest possible audience. This is one of the streamer’s darkest movies lately, as well as one of his most directed, given that this was an acquisition rather than a true original, and will duly make a more entertaining diversion for those who end up watching, a little gem hidden in the haystack.
Much of the brilliance of the film can be attributed to a reliable and powerful central performance by Kelvin Harrison Jr, whose work to date has continually shown him as one of the most impressive and imposing young actors working today, equally devastating in the dystopian horror It Comes At Night, the high school thriller Luce and the melodrama of style rather than substance Waves. Pulling all cylinders one more time (notice my words: he’ll have an Oscar in the next decade for Something), Harrison plays Steve, a hardworking student at an elite school, who finds himself accused of aiding and abetting murder, a bodega heist gone awry (led by an acquaintance played by A $ AP Rocky and his cousin played by John David Washington) who leaves his owner dejected. Steve is accused of being the lookout but he maintains his innocence, even though those within the system are quick to label him as the culprit.
The title refers to the opening statement made by the prosecutor and how he chooses to label Steve, based on alleged guilt that is not just the result of his standing in the courtroom. hearing but also because of Steve’s race, the idea that a 17- year-old black man is somehow inherently barbaric. It’s the same assumption that has led to countless state-sanctioned murders or jails, based less on the facts of the case and more on the fear that surrounds it and Monster smartly avoids looking at the politician’s frustration. to focus on the horror of the staff. How terrifying would each step of this process be for a teenager? Aside from the heart-wrenching practicalities of prison life, how would a time already mentally fractured as a teenager then shatter under this new lens? And how would you begin to see yourself then? The trick for Steve and his lawyer (an underrated Jennifer Ehle) is to turn him into a human for the jury members, rather than the stereotype they see in him. Perhaps, depressingly, that same trick holds true for first-time director Anthony Mandler, working against audience members who might come to the film, and the situation, with a similar baggage.
Based on the award-winning YA 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 storyline that many would be too quick to judge. The presumably 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 between in his voiceover) and the script, co-authored by The 40 -Year-old version, Radha Blank, does a great job using a micro example to present a macro problem. It’s also a film about the desperation of trying to get others to see you as you see yourself when prejudice denies you a fair trial, whether in or out of a courtroom. Making Steve the son of well-off parents living in a luxurious brown stone, attending a high school is a good idea because when it comes to the culture around him, none of these privileges change the way he is viewed at the level. intestinal.
Harrison’s heart-wrenching journey from college student to alleged accomplice is told in jagged pieces, jumping back and forth to the time before and after the fateful incident. The structure is effective at times (the jarring lushness of a beautifully captured New York summer and the drab grays of Steve’s cell and courtroom work well), but it also robs some scenes of drama, keeping us in. black in times when we are more informed. would have helped. While the script is often remarkably subtle, it is also remarkably awkward (Tim Blake Nelson’s film teacher showing Steve and his classmates Rashomon before a discussion of the truth is a choice) and the performances are also going great. (a stoic Jeffrey Wright does a lot with much like his father) to the least (Jennifer Hudson struggles to be moved as a mother).
It’s in many ways a minor, almost mundane story, with an ending that chooses the small over the big but it pretty much resonates, a silent scream in the dark, now able to be heard in the living rooms of the whole world.