Two men fight with a bodega owner over a gun. The gun goes off and the bodega owner dies. Three men are arrested for the murder, but was one of them actually involved? This is the premise for “Monster.” The movie focuses on many complex topics, most importantly subjective truth, and the racism involved in associating Black men with crime. With such a heavy message and passionate depictions of important issues, “Monster” should be a success, right? However, despite great acting, the theme becomes muddled through unnecessary distractions.
The movie focuses on Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a Black 17-year-old boy who is arrested and facing trial for the murder of a bodega owner. Steve claims that he is innocent, but his ties to gang members and his presence at the scene of the crime make his chances of being released from prison very low. Viewers of the film, however, are intentionally left in the dark about Steve’s participation in the crime; instead, the film focuses on his trial and slowly reveals how he became associated with the crime in flashbacks.
The film triumphs in strong performances from its actors. Simple scenes like Steve speaking to his parents hold profound weight because of the rawness actors Harrison Jr., Jeffery Wright and Jennifer Hudson applied to their roles. The fear the three of them feel makes viewers empathetic and root for Steve throughout the trial.
Yet the portrayals the actors give is not enough to save the movie. The film falls short of delivering its message due to its unrealistic resolution. Without a large enough focus on the effects of race, the film does not realistically portray the real and brutal trials that Black people in America are subjected to. Despite the fact that race should play a major role in Steve’s trial and story, the film does not focus enough attention on these themes. Instead, the movie spends most of its time building tension over the reveal of Steve’s involvement.
Stylistically, the film itself is shot in a way that mimics the use of a personal camera, referencing Steve’s interest in directing and photography. While this is an artistic choice, the camera work often distracts viewers from the narrative. Instead of focusing on the plot and theme, viewers are forced to focus instead on camera quality and the constant changes on-screen. At the same time, most of the drama in “Monster” occurs through narration, which frankly dulls the acting’ performances since narration cuts over what they are saying or the emotions they are portraying.
Another consequence of the movie’s use of narration is its pace. “Monster” is very slow in developing its plot. Many scenes feature Steve narrating his own life, which consist of him constantly repeating that no one truly knows him and how he didn’t expect his life to end up the way it did. At the same time, flashback scenes present the lessons Steve learned prior to his arrest. On the other hand, scenes in the present focus more on his inability to cope in prison and represent the hopelessness that Steve is overcome with. While the scenes help demonstrate to the viewer the problems Black men face when accused of crime, too many of the scenes are repetitive and hamper the development of the plot. In turn, “Monster” feels boring despite the intriguing story being told.
Overall, “Monster” depicts an emotional drama exceptionally. At certain points in the film viewers find themselves overcome with empathy for the characters. Yet, the movie dulls that by having lengthy scenes that echo one another and the experimental camera work only draws viewers away from the events being shown.
Verdict: Despite the actors depicting their roles well and the interesting subject matter of the movie, “Monster” is a boring film. Its lengthy narration, slow pace and lack of focus on its message dulls the movie and makes it not worth watching.