monster review

Originally published in 1999, Walter Dean Myers’s novel Monster has been a favorite among young-adult readers, using both a third-person screenplay device and first-person diary format to tell the story of honors student Steve Harmon, a black teenager with dreams of becoming a filmmaker, who is arrested and tried for felony murder in New York City after a bodega robbery goes wrong and the owner is killed. Was this kid from a supportive home a part of this crime? Or is he simply guilty of being young, black and on trial when he walks in the courtroom?

Music video veteran and first-time feature director Anthony Mandler has been desperate to bring Monster to the screen for years, and now he’s done so with a cast that includes such heavyweights as Jennifer Ehle, Jeffrey Wright, and Tim Blake Nelson, as well as musicians-turned-actors like Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, Nas, and A$AP Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) as Harmon’s co-defendant. Told in a non-linear fashion, Monster moves from Harmon’s life just before the crime to his time in prison and the eventual trial, all culminating in a look at the actual events surrounding the robbery. Various versions of the truth are told, and Mandler illustrates how a kid who wanted to capture the reality of his neighborhood got caught up in way he could never have imagined or wanted.

Harmon is played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., best known as the son in last year’s It Comes At Night. However, he was also in the Oscar-nominated Mudbound and was in two other Sundance films this year: Assassination Nation and Monsters and Men. Harrison delivers some truly rage-filled inner monologues in Monster that add a depth and level of frustration to both the character and the experience of watching the film.

This interview with Mandler and Harrison took place at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Monster debuted. /Film spoke with the two about the process of bringing the novel to the screen and the movie’s fluid definition of “the truth.” Monster has yet to announce a distributor or release date.

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