Evolution of a Criminal (Darius Clark Monroe, 2014)

A scene from Darius Clark Monroe's  Evolution of a Criminal   {Photo: IFC CENTER}

A scene from Darius Clark Monroe's Evolution of a Criminal  {Photo: IFC CENTER}

Evolution of a Criminal screens on Sunday, October 19 and Monday, October 20. Director Darius Clark Monroe is scheduled to attend both screenings. More information can be found at the Chicago International Film Festival's website here. This is a capsule review. A full review will be published upon the film's United States theatrical release. 

Darius Clark Monroe’s Evolution of a Criminal is produced by Spike Lee and like a Spike Lee film, it is a complex film on race. It recounts Monroe’s youth, the formative experiences that shaped him, and the incident that would prompt his incarceration. Monroe stirs a hardy stew of facts: he details the socioeconomic strain of his upbringing, how the mounting anxieties of living paycheck to paycheck led him toward acts of criminality, and the inevitability of his imprisonment. It’s an effectively candid portrait, where Monroe interviews his family, accomplices, and victims to aid in this personal deconstruction of deviance.

Evolution of a Criminal’s specificity makes for a narratively engaging picture. Monroe makes it clear that personal accountability cannot be discounted, though compels the audience to understand the broad social terms that perpetuate cycles of deviance. The terms he outlines aren’t especially revelatory – something that perhaps says more about our current social and racial climate than a slight against the film itself – but the film’s personal strokes are what makes it so intoxicating. Interviews with Monroe, his family, accomplices, and victims are frank in their accounts. Intermingling between these interviews are somber recreations of the bank robbery itself. The replication is not all too different from Bart Layton’s impressive film The Imposter, with Monroe, like Layton, utilizing this technique to accomplish a more visually and narratively rich experience.

The film’s guttural impact supersedes its socially-aware inclinations, but it remains a formidable effort and ranks as one of the best documentaries of 2014. Monroe’s clearheaded approach to understanding such a life-changing moment ought to be understood as both cathartic and as a critical warning of the cyclical nature of criminality and poverty. But most of all, it’s a brave film that tries to make sense of the woefully senseless.