'Monster': Young, Black, and On Trial Means Guilty in Most Cases

Monster's plot is built around Steve Harmon's false accessory to felony murder accusation, and the anxiety and desperation experienced by him during incarceration and the corresponding trial.

Antonio Matei
Antonio Matei
July 7, 2021
3.0
INCLUVIE SCORE
3.5
MOVIE SCORE

Kelvin Harrison Jr., with his impeccable acting is instrumental in depicting an injustice situation, where the State is trying to put behind bars the character that he plays, Steve Harmon.

Premiered at Sundance in 2018, the film has finally come to light in 2021 after landing on Netflix. Despite the three years of delay, the story still makes sense today because we have not solved this kind of problem yet.

Monster's plot is built around Steve Harmon's false accessory to felony murder accusation, and the anxiety and desperation experienced by him during incarceration and the corresponding trial. He is a young black man from Harlem with a promising future, he attends a prestigious art and cinematographic school in New York, he is preparing for college, and he loves to catch photographs with his camera, in search for a good film story. By doing this he meets William King (A$ap Rocky), a young and problematic boy from his neighborhood in whom he finds a source of artistical inspiration for his photos. Nonetheless, King will try to take advantage of his new acquaintance and does not hesitate to involve Steve in the Harlem’s bodega theft, which ends up with the store’s owner death.

'Monster': Young, Black, and On Trial Means Guilty in Most Cases

Art & Photography

In this context, director Anthony Mandler, who is an experienced photographer and music video director, expresses himself through the main character. All the movie is full of artistic takes; he plays with formats, colors, and aesthetics in order to create the young black artist’s universe. For instance, granulation or a vintage image edition is used by Steve every time he seeks inspiration, he is constantly trying to capture day-to-day life with a different point of view.

This recording style works great with the first-person narrative structure, but at the same time, this storytelling became tedious as the movie advances, with several flashbacks and flash-forwards that are not helped at all by Steve’s voice-over, since it does not offer anything different to the story apart from what we can see by ourselves.

On the other hand, the racial problem is very well depicted, unfortunately young black men have to confront with police abuse, discriminatory courtrooms, and an unfair system. Black lives matter, and making justice matters too. The discrimination Steve must face is made very clear in his lawyer’s words (Jennifer Ehle):

“Half that jury, despite what they told us when we picked them, they decided you were guilty the moment they’d laid eyes on you. You are young, you are black, and you are on trial. What else do they need to know?”

 Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) outside the bodega where the crime is comitted.

Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) outside the bodega where the crime is comitted.

Summing up

Monster achieves its objective, it raises awareness on racial problems of the US society and it generates debate about it. Although it does not perfectly represent these problems, it makes the viewer feel uncomfortable enough to think about this matter. Furthermore, Kelvin Harrison’s acting is impressive, just as good as he did in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). Despite the not so good storytelling, Monster deserves to be watched at least once.