Monster (2021) review – Harrison’s star continues to shines bright

May 7, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews, Netflix
3.5

Summary

Monster is a flawed, but effective drama about race and judgment that is layered between the lines of every level of the law.

3.5

Summary

Monster is a flawed, but effective drama about race and judgment that is layered between the lines of every level of the law.

This review of Netflix film Monster (2021) contains no spoilers — the drama will be released on the streaming service on May 7, 2021. 

“He looks the part to me” is the quip from District Attorney Anthony Petrocelli (Paul Ben-Victor). His words are racially charged and laced with cynicism. As the statement leaves his mouth, you find yourself skeptical that even he believes it. At least, that’s the impression you get from defense attorney Katherine O’Brien (Saint Maud’s Jennifer Ehle). She wants five to seven years for her client, a young black man accused of accessory to murder, as a lookout for a robbery. Steve (Luce’s Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is filled with so much potential; the possibilities for him are endless. Except O’Brien knows. So does Petrocelli. It’s a numbers game. Half of the jurors will automatically assume Steve is guilty by just the color of his skin. That’s the point of Monster. No matter what the evidence is or the accused’s reputation, all they will see is a monster in their eyes.

That’s the theme behind the Anthony Mandler freshman feature, adapted for the screen from Walter Dean Myers’ young adult bestseller. Steve is accused of robbing a local grocery market and killing the owner with three other local residents (including John David Washington, Jharrel Jerome, and A$AP Rocky) who live in the community. The three are gang-affiliated, and Steve comes from a good family while going to the best private school in the area. His parents (played by Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson) are successful, loving, and are education-oriented. Steve certainly couldn’t be a murderer, right? 

The film was adapted by Janece Shaffer ad Colen Wiley, and the screenplay has some noticeable differences from the source material. The film has an overused storytelling device incorporated in movies, television, and books these days. Steve wants to be a filmmaker and carries around his phone/camera trying to find his story. In the book, Steve decides to film his experience. His story is of a black man on trial in America.

Here, the device is used to tell the story of Steve as a young man filming what is really going on around him. It’s a plot point that is almost useless. It never reaches the level of social commentary you’d come to expect. Mandler’s music video experience is also a hindrance here. There are two or three more music montages that are needless fillers.

Netflix’s Monster is so well-acted, you can forgive many of the screenplay’s flaws and even the overused hand it plays. Kelvin Harrison Jr continues an impressive run of films as of late. He is stoic, always deferential, even a bit naïve. Monster has long been delayed (it first appeared at Sundance in 2018) and filmed before Harrison’s breakthrough role in Luce. His performance is multifaceted.

He has a particular action that plays out at several points throughout the film. By the final time, he repeats the same action; each time has a different meaning. It takes on a different meaning you didn’t know was there before. This is similar to Courage Under Fire, a similar plot device that works there and does so here. Though, that is just as much credit to Harrison as the script.

Netflix’s Monster (2021) is a flawed but effective drama about race and judgment that is layered between the lines of every level of the law. Mandler does an admirable job of conveying that message, which includes the grey area in almost every case that’s just not black and white. His film can be a bit amateurish at times, but it is ultimately a suspenseful ride that proves Kelvin Harrison Jr is a star on the rise. It will not be falling anytime soon.

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