As represented by a character in “Monster,” the movie is a “curated series of pictures, with a beginning, intermediate and ending.” Going ahead of that pretty basic description, filmmaker Anthony Mandler who is also an acclaimed director of music clips makes his narrative feature appearance with a courtroom play about a 17-year-old from Harlem who is accused of being an accomplice to murder, explains the story using a mix of comparison.
Focusing on an ambitious filmmaker from Harlem and using what is carried off as his footage, the movie holds security-camera footage; grainy, black-and-white images; amateur video; Polaroids; iPhone clips; bits from “Rashomon”; and lush, soggy tableaus of a New York lightened by sunset, candles, the flashers on a police car also streets lights. It would not involve much if the story were based on a 1999 YA novel by Walter Dean Myers, subsequently turned into a graphic novel — were not stirring anymore. It is. Also, the acting and featuring performances by Jennifer Hudson, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle, A$AP Rocky, Tim Blake Nelson, and John David Washington are evenly strong.
The reference material has been drafted for teenagers, but this version is all grown-up. Harrison describes the movie from prison as if it were a screenplay he’s composing, jumping backward and forward in time, opening with security footage of the crime and concluding with the verdict, distributing flashbacks all along the way to what he terms the “before” time. It is nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the year 2018 Sundance Film Festival, “Monster” offers a nerve-racking reminder of how, for several Black defendants, they are guilty till proven innocent. Harrison makes his role as fear and anguish evident. R. Available on Netflix. Contains powerful language throughout, little violence, and bloody pictures. 98 minutes.
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