Thursday, February 1, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Monster

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Anthony Mandler
U.S. Dramatic Competition

The prison system and the statistics of African-Americans being disproportionately incarcerated have been explored in depth lately by a number of projects, including films. In fact, another similarly-titled film, “Monsters and Men,” competed against this film at Sundance and also addresses the arrests of African-Americans and the tendency to want to convict them of crimes even if there’s no evidence to show that they were involved other than the color of their skin and the neighborhood they live in. This is a film that confronts that head-on in its portrait of a young man facing an unthinkable reality.

Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is a seventeen-year-old aspiring filmmaker from a good home with two loving parents (Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson). When he is arrested as a lookout for a convenience store robbery in Harlem that claimed the life of the owner, he discovers that the prosecutor (Paul Ben-Victor) wants him to serve twenty years in jail because he “looks the part.” As his attorney (Jennifer Ehle) tries valiantly to show that he is not the monster the prosecutor literally says he is, Steve reflects back on the events that led up to his implication in the robbery.

The presentation of this film is very gritty and realistic, showing how quickly Steve could go from screening one of his films in his bedroom to being hauled into a police station with no clear understanding of what he has done. Steve comes from a good home but faces influences on the streets around him that could get him into trouble, but is also that much more likely to be picked up for a crime due to how he looks. His attorney is sympathetic but her arguments to the jury about him not belonging in this world don’t sound like even she is entirely convinced.

Director Anthony Mandler discusses the film

Harrison, Jr. does a remarkable job of anchoring this film, making Steve an endearing protagonist that the audience wants to root for since he truly isn’t supposed to be in that courtroom, and though he’s more than ready to testify on his own behalf, he sometimes can’t find the words to say what he means to. As his parents, Wright and Hudson (who doesn’t seem old enough to play his mother) are appropriately intense and devastated, supportive but in shock. This is a strong debut for established commercial and music video director Anthony Mandler, who helms a memorable and powerful adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’ young adult novel.


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