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Monsters and Men is a small film about big topics. Race, police shootings, the need for safety, and the importance of speaking out against injustice are just some of the ideas that find their way into the narrative.

In the aftermath of a police shooting in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., that results in the death of a man well-liked in his community, the film moves through three different characters’ perspectives, drawing out the complexities of the lives and issues at hand.

Manny Ortega (Anthony Ramos) is a young, recently unemployed father starting a new job at the security desk of a large office building. He witnesses the shooting, filming it on his phone. Should he share it? If he puts it out into the world, he feels he is risking his life and livelihood, but if he keeps it under wraps, he is betraying the victim, his friend.

Dennis Williams (John David Washington) is an African-American police officer. He works hard to serve the neighborhood, to build community between young people and the police force—he feels called to this job. But he has also been a victim of racial harassment. He has to decide which of his communities he is going to stand by.

Zyrick Norris (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a star high school baseball player. He has kept his head down, focusing on his game in order to get a college scholarship. After the shooting, he wants to be part of making a difference in his community, but his father is disillusioned with protests and politics. He’s counting on Zyrick to move up in the world for both of them.

Each of these characters is well developed; we see who they are in their homes, with their friends, in their jobs or other activities. None of them are saintly; none are villains. They are just facing down what life is throwing their way.

There are so many uniforms in the movie—police, security, military, baseball, even the protest uniform: a t-shirt with the shooting victim’s name on it. Everyone has to choose a team, show an ID, declare who they are.

So it is for these three men. Life circumstances demand that each character make a choice. To which team will they show their allegiance? What community will they ultimately serve?

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green has created an indie film that tries to dig deep. He’s not entirely successful—sometimes the film is predictable, sometimes it’s uneven. But it is compassionate and humane while displaying some artful film technique, and it offers interesting characters and an engrossing storyline. Even where it doesn’t succeed, it’s a worthy attempt. On disc now. (NEON)

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