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Despite Its Incendiary Subject Matter, 'Monsters And Men' Is Sober And Nuanced


A number of movies this fall have a torn-from-the-headlines aspect to them. several include racially charged police shootings. "Monsters And Men" is the first of those to reach theaters. Critic Bob Mondello says that despite its controversial subject matter, the film is sober and nuanced.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Big Darius is a large, good-natured man who hangs out most days in front of a deli in Brooklyn selling single cigarettes. Pretty much every passerby greets him, even kids, as he's a soft touch.


SAMEL EDWARDS: (As Darius) Little man, you don't got no homework to do?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) No, bro.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Yo, let me get a dollar.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) My man, I just gave you money.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) So?

EDWARDS: (As Darius) Kid's always begging, man. Get up out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Come on. I want to get something.

EDWARDS: (As Darius) Get out of here. Go do your homework.

MONDELLO: Big Darius is a neighborhood fixture, which makes the arrival of cops who don't know him one evening problematic. As they hassle Big D, a crowd gathers.


ANTHONY RAMOS: (As Manny) Is there nothing better to do on a Monday night?

MONDELLO: That's Manny, who had told Big D earlier that day about acing a job interview. He pulls out his cellphone to record what's becoming an escalating situation. And then...


RAMOS: (As Manny) They shot him.


RAMOS: (As Manny) Yo, y'all shot him.

MONDELLO: This is the harrowing setup for what first-time writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green has conceived as a tense drama of conscience in three acts. Manny's act is about the choice he now faces - put the video on the web or swallow his rage for the sake of his wife and baby.


JASMINE CEPHAS JONES: (As Marisol) You just got a new job. I'm about to graduate. Everything's going to change if you just put this out there.

RAMOS: (As Manny) Nothing has to change.

JONES: (As Marisol) D would have wanted you to look out for your family.

MONDELLO: Act 2 involves a black police officer up for promotion whose partner thinks he'd be nuts to testify when the internal affairs division calls.


JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON: (As Dennis) I saw the tape. And you know Scola (ph).

CARA BUONO: (As Stacey) So what, you're going to go blab to IAD about Scola? And then what? What do you think they're going to do, maybe a slap on the wrist, give him a desk job? But you - they're going to make an example out of you.

MONDELLO: Consequences also figure in the film's third act about a much-recruited high school athlete who, to his dad's distress, can't shake the idea that there's something more important going on than baseball.


KELVIN HARRISON JR.: (As Zyrick) I'm going downtown.

ROB MORGAN: (As Will) Downtown?

HARRISON JR.: (As Zyrick) I mean, can't you see what's happening out there?

MORGAN: (As Will) Cities are going to keep burning. Kids are going to keep getting shot. And cops are going to keep getting off. But my reality right now is that you have a ticket out.

MONDELLO: A lesser movie might weave these threads into a narrative that exploits real-world parallels - viral social media, athletes who take a knee, cops who close ranks. "Monsters And Men" doesn't pander or dismiss.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) You have no idea. You don't have a clue what goes on on the streets. You see three minutes of a shaky video, and you think you know what you'd do.

MONDELLO: "Monsters And Men" finds what affirmation it can in community but doesn't pretend it has answers. The choices these men make tell us what sort of men they are. That they should have to make those choices - that's what's monstrous. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.