- Run Time
- 1 hour 36 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- 3 / 10
- 4 / 10
- Sex / Nudity
- 1 / 10
- Star Rating
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This is writer/director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s first feature film. It is skillfully made and unsensational–and very timely in regard to the Black Lives Matter movement. With the killing of a black man by a trigger-happy white cop as its center, the film is divided into three parts, each depicting a person wrestling with his conscience as to how to respond. For students of ethics Mr. Green has provided a fine case study of people under pressure to conform. Outside a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood Darius Larson (Samuel Edwards), better known as Big D, is a local fixture selling single cigarettes to those unable to afford a whole pack. The big man is a gentle giant to kids, often buying them ice cream.
One night, family man Manny (Anthony Ramos) is walking near the store when he sees the lights of police cars and a half-dozen cops surrounding Big D. Activating his cell phone camera, Manny watches the incident unfold, a look of horror transfiguring his face when there is the crack of a gun and he sees Big D die from a police bullet. He returns home without further incident, torn by what to do. The story released by the police is very different from what Manny saw, the shooting justified due to the dead man’s resistance. Over the next few days he plays with his little daughter and eventually shares with his wife Marisol (Jasmine Cephas Jones) what he has witnessed. Her advice is to forget it rather than to jeopardize job he has just won and their security.
Despite his wife, Manny decides to post his video on line. The newspapers pounce on it, and the next thing he knows the police pounce on Manny. They are not pleased that their story has been proven wrong. Manny is left alone in an interrogation room with its one-way mirror.
On the other side of the mirror, gazing at Manny, is the officer we first saw in the film’s opening prologue. Driving alone, Dennis Williams (John David Washington) was stopped by a white cop asking to see and run a check on his driver’s license. When he puts his credentials away we see a police badge. As a black man engulfed in a white-culture police force Dennis feels uneasy. He knows that the racist shooter has been cited for his abusive behavior toward black men. He is caught between the rage of his black friends and the pressure of his mostly white colleagues. His white female patrol partner Stacey (Cara Buono) resignedly shrugs off the misconduct of their fellow cops with “It is what it is.” His wife Michelle (Nicole Beharie) is supportive but worried about his welfare.
At the supper table Dennis argues with their guests, especially the wife of a friend who thinks he ought to be speaking up. When he tries to defend his acceptance of the status quo, the disappointed woman utters words that cut deeply, “I thought you would be part of the solution.” The friends get up and leave, their meal unfinished. Dennis is an eight-year veteran, in line for a promotion. The release of the tape has triggered a federal investigation. Like all his fellow officers, Dennis is called in to be interrogated by a black female agent, who all but pleads with him to share any information he has on the white cop who murdered the black man. Dennis is almost mute during the interview, answering that he barely knew the fellow cop, even though they graduated from the Police Academy in the same class and have been serving in the same precinct. She barely conceals her disappointment and disgust, ending with “Thank you for your time.” Exiting the room, Dennis walks what must seem to him a gauntlet of hostile stares from the white cops, suspicious of what he might have revealed.
The third person caught up in the turmoil surrounding the murder is the hooded high school senior Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), stopped by the police, one of whom is Dennis, late one night when he is walking home. The boy suffers in silence the indignity of having his pockets and backpack emptied out and examined to insure he is not carrying a gun or drugs. The cops’ kindly meant “Get home safe” does not compensate for their treatment, His single father (Rob Morgan) is concerned about the upcoming weekend when scouts will be attending the baseball game at which Zyrick will have the opportunity to display his immense athletic skills. One representative meets with the two the next day to talk about the boy’s future. Thus, when the boy is attracted by activist leader Zoe (Chante Adams), whom we have seen several times leading protests in front of the store where Darius had been murdered, his attention is drawn away from himself to take in the conditions in his community. He decides he will attend a street rally that night, a decision his worried father argues against. (This part reminded me of Danny Glover’s Mississippi father struggling against his teenage son wanting to join the SNNC demonstrations in their small town in 1963. Generations come and go, but the same conflicts remain.)
This is a fine film, enhance at key moments by the score by Kris Bowers, for groups to discuss current headlines of police shooting black men and getting off (for the most part) free of charges, as well as the widely accepted policy of stop and search to which male members of minority groups are subjected. The “monster” part of the title might have been better explored if a fourth person had been scrutinized, the white racist cop whose hair-trigger reaction to Big D’s protest is at the center of the controversy. As it is, however, the writer/director has given us a good study of three people struggling with their consciences. Like the ancient Jews to whom Micah spoke, they know what is right—” to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”—but will they find the courage to do so. The three interconnected stories are open-ended, the film maker leaving it up to the audience to decide. In addressing his audience, he is also speaking to, better, challenging, America itself “to do justice.”
This review will be in the November issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.