No matter how many times we see this story, it can never relinquish its relevance. Not unless it falls into the wrong hands. And director Anthony Mandler, fresh off the shelf from making music videos, instils an anguished plea for justice as 17-year old Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is shoved into jail for a grocery-store holdup and murder which he was not a part of. Or so he says. Defence lawyer (Jennifer Ehle) has a tough job ahead. Luckily for her, the actress playing the character is more than up to the job. Piece by piece the truth unfolds. In telling it like it is, director Anthony Mandler does end up showing his young protagonist as some kind of a bleeding martyr.
Now don’t be cross! It is imperative that racial justice be brought to the forefront of American cinema in the most hard-hitting way possible. Monster takes the direct route with every note of despair writ on supporting Steve’s innocence. Yes, he’s going to walk free out of that prison door. And don’t you dare doubt that for even a second! Speaking of prison, it is difficult to feel sorry for an imprisoned 17-year old whose smallish cell has a neat bed with clean a bedsheet, a washbasin in a corner, etc. Imagine what 17-year olds in our prisons have to go through!
The sanitization and the scrubbed presentation puts this prison drama about a black young man’s wrong confinement way below something as powerful as Central Park 5 in which 5 underage Latin American boys were wrongly convicted for rape. In comparison, Steve Harmon’s predicament is a cakewalk. Kelvin Harrison walks through part with saintly vigour, imbuing more a sense of justice delayed than justice undone.
He has terrific support from the actors playing his parents Jennifer Hudson and Jeffrey Right. Both have one prison-visit sequence with their screen son where they mouth clichés about being brave and God is watching, and the struggle makes one strong, blah blah. Easy to pontificate from the other side.
Oh, and that other co-accused is played by John David Washington. He barely speaks. Must be something he signed long before Tenet. More injustice for the black community. In showing a black boy getting justice, Monster breaks no new ground, arrives at no great revelations about the legal system being weighed against the underprivileged.
Also, in a rather self-defeating epilogue, we see Steve in a flashback, doing exactly what the courts had accused him of doing. Hence Monster becomes more of a saga of giving a non-criminal young man a new chance, rather than getting justice for him. Because from where we stand Steve doesn’t look completely guilt-free.
Directed by Anthony Mandler, Monster gets 2 and a half stars!
Image source: Playblog, Youtube/MoviesclipTrailer
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