Monsters and Men

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Monsters and Men Movie Poster Image
Superb race-relations drama has language, tension.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 95 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This is a complex film on a complex topic, so it doesn't have crystal-clear messages. But each story finds someone acting on their conscience under difficult circumstances, so courage is a strong theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though there are a few villainous figures (abusive police), most characters are trying to do the right thing. A supportive single parent worries about his teenage son. A young mother tries to keep her family together, then stands up for her husband/partner after he's unfairly jailed. Activists behave passionately but responsibly. People reasonably disagree (though with some passion). Three main characters put themselves on the line to do what they believe is right.


No violence shown on-screen, but shooting of an unarmed citizen is the key plot point, and it's heard over and over again.


A happy couple is shown in bed after having sex.


Strong language isn't constant but includes "f--k," "bitch," "s--t," and the "N" word.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigarettes are sold but not smoked in a featured way. A packet of an unidentified drug is flushed. Wine may be served at a dinner party. Nothing to excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Monsters and Men is a serious, complex drama about strained relations between police and urban minority communities. Expect some strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," the "N" word, and more. Though no violence is shown on-screen, a shooting is heard repeatedly and is the movie's central plot point. Cigarettes and a packet of drugs are seen, but they aren't used obviously. A couple is shown in bed, presumably after having sex. The outstanding young cast includes John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (It Comes at Night), and Anthony Ramos and Jasmine Cephas Jones of Broadway's Hamilton. Central characters act courageously, and the film brings up important, timely issues.

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What's the story?

In MONSTERS AND MEN, an unarmed black man is killed by police, an event that affects three characters in profound ways. Young father Manny (Anthony Ramos), who records the act (and was friends with the victim), struggles with sharing what he knows vs. protecting himself and his family from retaliation. Conscientious black cop Dennis (John David Washington) is caught in the tug-of-war between his colleagues and the community. And young athlete Zyric (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who's on the verge of a potentially life-changing showcase, feels driven to get involved in the community's protests.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how relations between police and the minority communities they patrol are depicted in Monsters and Men. What did you see that you didn't expect to see, and what did you expect to see that you didn't?

  • The film ties three separate stories together, each of which approaches the subject from a different, strong point of view. Have you seen other movies with a similar structure? How did it affect your perception and experience of the film? Why do you think it's in three separate parts instead of one flowing piece?

  • Which characters do you consider role models? Why? How is courage a theme of the movie?

  • How did the movie's central act of violence affect the characters and their actions/decisions?

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