Saturday, April 5, 2014

DIFF 2014 Review: EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL- Jonesy's Take

Directed by Darius Clark Monroe
Synopsis: A film maker goes home to tell a story that about his teenage years.

EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL plays again on 4/5 at 9:30 pm at The Angelika in theatre 4.

One aspect that's difficult to do when making a documentary is separating yourself from the subject matter so you can tell an objective story. But what if you are the subject of your own film? Director Darius Clark Monroe takes a microscope to his own life as he goes on a journey for redemption for a robbery he committed when he was 16, which sent him to prison.

To tell his story, Monroe relies on various talking heads of people in his life: family, classmates, accomplices, teachers, and the district attorney on his case. The interviews feel more informal and personal than normal documentaries, which draws us into his story. Looking back on his life, his family, especially his mother, remember a smart, kind, loving little boy. Monroe and his mother are very close, and as he got older, he began to notice that his family was struggling with money. They lived paycheck to paycheck, and like most children who become more self aware, Monroe wanted to help out.

Instead of getting a job, he decides to rob a bank one day. Monroe had watched his mother and stepfather struggle with money, and then one night, the family was robbed. After feeling like the family has hit rock bottom, he gathered a couple of friends and decided to hit up a bank. This documentary is the first time the family has really sat down and gone over that fateful event, and it's evident in their eyes that this had a lasting effect on them far longer than Monroe ever realized. Part of his exploration during filming, which ended up being a seven year process, was finding the customers of the bank and asking for forgiveness on his path of redemption. Monroe seems to be a changed man. It tugs at your heartstrings when he goes to their doors and the realization on their faces when they figure out who he is.

One aspect of the film that became a distraction was the various cameras Monroe used, which caused for weird focus inconsistencies. When he was interviewing the family, they were more blurry, but when reenacting the robbery, the picture was sharper.  After the film, he explained that he used the resources available to him in 2007, when he began filming, which made some of the frames fuzzier. In the grand scheme, it's a minor point, but prominent enough to draw away focus from his story.

Several themes are brought up throughout the film. How much should a parent tell their child about the family finances? Does part of the responsibility of Monroe's actions fall onto his mother because she was so frank with him? Also, Monroe was able to turn his life around while in prison, and this film could be a staple for the argument of rehabilitating prisoners as opposed to putting them away for half their life. The film touches on these themes, but, especially the later, could have been explored a bit more.

Nevertheless, Monroe is a dynamic film maker, who is quite brave to delve into his past which not many outside of those involve know about. For his first feature, he has set the bar high for his future films.

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