Last night I gave ‘Monster’ a try because it had some familiar names like Nas, and A$AP Rocky playing dramatic roles and Jennifer Hudson playing a mom. John Legend is the executive producer. 

Sort of expecting the typical criminal justice arc experienced by young black men fighting arrest and conviction, this movie did it a little differently. As expected, all the drama leading up to the end of the movie where we witness whether our guy is ruled innocent or guilty is complicated by the final facts presented in the case making it really tough for the viewer to decide on guilt or innocence no matter how just the justice process is depicted. 

If you take the criminal justice element out of the movie, it really tells a great story of the impact of peer pressure, bullying, decision making, and the role played by people you hang with. Even more interesting than the criminal justice inequities we’re all kinda tired of seeing played out over and over again, this movie does a wonderful job demonstrating how a 17-year old black boy navigated the grossly different personal relationships he found himself in including with his career oriented father, loving mother and little brother, girl friend, white teacher, and guys on the block. 

Although he gets picked up for a crime it doesn’t seem like he committed, and because you intimately get to know him as a good young man throughout the movie, tension is created by watching him go through the criminal justice process knowing what often happens to good guys like him. 

If I may suggest one flaw of the movie, it was not providing any history to the other guy on trial with him. He was characterized as a street smart guy with some redeeming qualities but we never got a chance to learn anything about him. As a result, it’s too easy to see him as the bad guy who should be charged without the benefit of getting to know how he lives when he’s not on the streets. Black people are often judged by the color of their skin in the criminal justice system, and what’s overlooked is that he is an individual with a full life, a backstory, and the potential to be innocent. I was sort of left feeling that I was supposed to be alright with him going straight to jail. 

Also, the two guys on trial had two totally different lawyers representing them. One was a black male and the other a white female. We didn’t get to know them equally. We saw a lot of the white woman attorney who appeared more confident and caring than the black attorney who we didn’t get to know at all outside the courtroom. 

Artistically, the movie was very well done. There were a lot of flashbacks popping in while the movie was moving forward and it wasn’t difficult to maintain focus. It’s obvious who the movie wants the viewer to root for but once you see the final fashback, if you’re fair, you’re left wondering if the jury verdict will agree with your heart or the facts. 

Like one movie director told me, ‘Unless you’re talking about a movie the next day, it probably wasn’t good.’ 

‘Monster’ is good.