For those not familiar with the book, Monster is the story of Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an artistic youth from the streets of Harlem whose penchant for photographs sometimes puts him in the wrong places at the wrong time. When Steve unwittingly gets implicated in the fatal heist of a local convenience store, he is left to fend for himself against a justice system that would see him imprisoned regardless of whether or not he is innocent.
Monster may share a lot of thematic elements with many of the films programmed for this years Sundance Film Festival, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack one hell of a punch. Director Anthony Madler is a master of mise en scene and his beautiful camera compositions and frantic editing style are good enough to hold the audience’s attention by themselves. Monster’s narrative unfolds within the space of three main settings and Madler had a unique stylistic approach for each of these locales.
This film was shot over a period of about 20 shooting days, but luckily, Monster boasts an amazing ensemble of veteran actors including: Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Tim Blake Nelson, Jennifer Ehle and more. The film’s leading man, Kelvin Harrison Jr. was an absolute marvel to watch on screen and it is easy to see why he has roles in three films at Sundance this year. However perhaps one of the most memorable performances of the film comes from actor/rapper A$AP Rocky. Though his performance is almost a direct continuation of the one he gave for the 2016 Sundance film Dope, it also shows that perhaps he is ready to break free from being type-casted as a young hood from the streets and instead take on a leading role of his own in some future film—casting directors take heed!
The 2018 Sundance Film Festival in Park City has been pretty lukewarm when it comes to outstanding films, yet Monster is one of the few exceptions. It is a magnificent piece socially conscious cinema that forces it’s audiences to take a step back and confront their own individual biases and stereotypes. During the film’s intensely riveting courtroom scenes, moviegoers aren’t just viewers, they are themselves jurors in the trial of young Steve Harmon. The film allows you to make your own opinion as to the guilt or innocence of Mr. Harmon. The audience becomes invested in the case in their own intimate way, and when the verdict is read at the end of film, the tension is all the more palpable for it. Keep an eye out for this one, as it is a film you most certainly can’t afford to miss.