REVIEW: Evolution of a Criminal

14 01 2015

Evolution of a CriminalFilmmakers rarely employ the first person narrative style – the only fictional film that comes to mind is Gaspar Noe’s experimental art film “Enter the Void.”  It does occasionally crop up in documentary film, though, where films like Laura Poitras’  “Citizenfour” and Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” directly involve their makers in the proceedings.  Now, add Darius Clark Monroe’s “Evolution of a Criminal,” which marks another successful entry into this small canon.

Monroe explores his life’s journey in the form of a cinematic memoir, tracing everything from his upbringing through the very making of the film.  Somewhere in the middle, he ends up spending five years in jail for a violent robbery he committed as a teenager.  Times were hard for Monroe’s family, and he admits that he made a terrible mistake in an attempt to help out his struggling parents.  With “Evolution of a Criminal,” he seeks to make amends and dispel certain myths along the way.

Chief among them, Monroe shows that criminality is not some kind of inherent character flaw, as is often presumed the case by the media.  In his mind, crime is merely an action one takes, a choice for which he can hopefully make amends.  (These conversations also carry an interesting and challenging racial subtext that deserves discussion amongst groups who watch the film.)

In order to reach the redemptive arc that makes the film so fascinating, though, Monroe does have to essentially restage the crime through filmic reenactment.  These portions play like a rather derivative heist film and take up too much of the runtime, but Monroe does ultimately demonstrate their necessity.  Seeing the honest expressions of shock from his family and friends, who never expected that the well-adjusted and successful boy they knew could be capable of such an act.

Knowing that the very subject of the film itself is on the other end of the camera registering and filming these reactions drives home just how real and personal this story is.  Documentaries about the criminal justice system and the people within its auspices so often take broader brushstrokes (like “The House I Live In“), losing sight of individuals along the way.  “Evolution of a Criminal” stays in a figurative close-up, and it delivers all the rich nuance that can be expected with such an intimacy of scope.  B2halfstars

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