You’re rooting for this boy to be innocent in this strong courtroom drama.
Kelvin Harrison, Jr. has won my attention with his exceptional performances in “Luce” and “Waves.” His latest movie “Monster” was made in 2018, and is finally out on Netflix. In this movie, he plays Steve Harmon, a film student in Harlem, who is wrongfully accused of murder. And being an ambitious filmmaker, he narrates the movie in the style of Spike Lee and experimental perspectives, regarding its depiction of race and discrimination. Even if the courtroom is diverse (and the judge is African-American), you still believe this is case of discrimination.
“Monster” mostly works because of its conviction and perspectives. We see all the good in Steve-he’s studious, ambitious, passionate, and good-natured-but does the court believe that? The movie obviously has to take some time to see if they do.
This particular murder took place at a local bodega when four robbers attacked the place and murdered the owner on duty. Some of the real thieves end up on trial, and apparently Steve. The only evidence is that they say he stood at the door and gave the guys the signal, which makes him the lookout. But given the boy’s clean track record, you believe he’s innocent.
Among the supporting cast, Jennifer Ehle plays his attorney is Maureen O’Brien, who tells him to not make himself look like the monster the court accuses him of being; Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson play his parents, who both see great things in his future; Tim Blake Nelson is his film teacher, who wants his students to know the true definition of making movies; John David Washington as the lead robber Bobo; A$AP Rocky as a local dealer and another robber; and Nas as another convict.
“Monster” lacks the full throttle courtroom drama of “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which also starred Harrison, Jr., but it does contain strong emotions, powerful dialogue, and fine performances. Harrison, Jr. is full of poetry, Ehle provides solid work as the attorney, Rocky delivers the small goods, and Wright and Hudson both have some sentimental values.
The flashbacks are also provocative as we see Steve taking black and white pictures, seeking for the right scope, and acknowledging his teacher’s motivational words about movies. Believe me, what this guy says is true. We also see the real thieves with their ambitions, betrayals, and poetry on their lives-most of which Rocky provides. And even the father-son scenes are well crafted and honest. Director Anthony Mandler, whose background includes music videos, makes his film debut with style and truth.
We know for a fact that this kid isn’t the monster the court is depicting him as; he’s a just a good person at the wrong place and time. The movie, based on Walter Dean Myer’s 1999 novel, has the nerve to not jump to conclusions and study the main protagonist. See how it goes down.
Streaming on Netflix