This is a deep, moving film about the realities of communities that have racially charged relationships with police. Writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green makes his feature debut with Monsters and Men after many shorts, but his filmmaking is so rich and assured that you'd never guess. His superb casting speaks well of him (and casting director Avy Kaufman), as every featured actor delivers a focused, believable, feeling performance. And his script makes the characters' stakes high and struggles relatable. Each one has a great deal to lose, and we feel it. The villains in the film -- a handful of abusive cops -- are few, but they loom large. Again, we feel their presence, their threat, the environment they create, despite the simultaneous presence of good cops who care about the job and interact with the community. It's a lot like life, but presented artistically by an auteur who knows how to convey ideas and emotions without jamming them down your throat.
The world of Monsters is dotted with authentic-feeling details such as Manny buying two cigarettes from a friend, later to give them to his grateful mother. Green's low-key direction conveys information with economy, as when we realize a man was a veteran only when we see him in uniform in his casket. Activists are passionate, but not comically so. Those who love the main male characters -- wives/partners and parents -- are realistically concerned. The relationships feel real, which makes the peril caused by the whole tense situation, much less the violent act, all the more consequential. In some ways, the film marries what's best in Crash with the three-tiered, deeply feeling format of Moonlight. But while those comparisons are apt, Monsters and Men deserves to be regarded on its own. It's outstanding work that, sadly, may perhaps always be timely.