New on Netflix this weekend is the legal drama, "Monster," which boasts an impressive cast, and a screenplay by Radha Blank ("The Fourty-Year-Old-Version"). The film, which premiered all the way back at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival has taken a while to get to the screen and now we know why.
Despite all of the talent involved, "Monster" is a timely story that somehow feels antiquated...a film with "urgent" themes but paced so slowly that the fiery embers it stokes never ignite.
Based on the novel by Walter Dean Myers, "Monster" is the fictional story of an African-American teenager, Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who is charged with felony murder of a convenience store clerk. It's debut feature-film director, Anthony Mandler, has a background in short form music videos, and it shows...he does his best to make this courtroom drama visually exciting but all it does is pull attention away as the camera never seems to relax enough to let a story play out in front of it.
Harmon gets representation from attorney Katherine O'Brien (Jennifer Ehle) as his loving parents (Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson) are put through hell watching it all unfold. To make the story more dramatic, much of what happened at that convenience store and what led up to it is told in flashback, an annoying mechanism in this instance that could have saved us all the time and trouble had it just showed us plainly what occurred, instead of dancing around it for much of the movie.
The film also stars Tim Blake Nelson, Paul Ben-Victor, John David Washington and A$AP Rocky, who is all but wasted as a thinly-crafted fall-guy...his character manipulates us into showing the main character, Steve Harmon, as much more sympathetic, which is something that is felt regardless just based on the circumstances he's thrust into.
Overall, it's hard to gloss over the importance of stories like this, but as a film it just doesn't pack much of a punch given the talent involved, and that makes "Monster" feel toothless.
Genre: Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes.
Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr., John David Washington, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Tim Blake Nelson, Jennifer Ehle, Jharrel Jerome.
Based on the novel by Walter Dean Myers.
Directed by Anthony Mandler (feature-film directorial debut).
"Monster" is on Netflix on Friday, May 7th, 2021.
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