"Evolution of a Criminal"

Richard Smaby

Darius Clark Monroe tells his own story in this suspenseful and moving documentary about the motivations and consequences of a crime at the Grand Cinema’s current 25 New Faces series. Monroe makes the viewer a witness to the thinking that led an otherwise upstanding young man to commit a bank robbery. This viewer was thinking, “That could have been me at 16 years old making some stupid choices; I made stupid choices; I also tried to rationalize my mistakes; I was lucky that mine weren’t serious enough to lead to jail.” The story is about evolution, as the title says. Monroe evolves from a successful young student to a bank robber to an accomplished graduate of the New York University’s Graduate Film Program with Spike Lee as one of his mentors and executive producer of the film. The film also explores what it means to be a criminal – and along the way, what it means to be human.

The film consists largely of interviews with the three bank robbers (including Monroe interviewing himself), the prosecuting attorney, Monroe’s extended family and others affected by the robbery: the employees and customers in the bank. Monroe’s art consists partly in letting the interviews tell the story – he does not judge. He fills in the story with reenactments of the crime, accompanied by him narrating what was going through his mind at the time – again without judging. The viewer knows the ending, but at the same time doesn’t really know the ending. Exploiting the difference between knowing a fact and knowing the details and thinking behind the fact, Monroe creates a psychological thriller. We find ourselves crying inwardly, “Don’t do it; just don’t do it.”

The three bank robbers (Darius, his friend, Trei, and an acquaintance, Pierre) do engage in introspection – each reflecting deeply on his crime in a way and to an extent that fits the individual. By showing rather than stating the differences among them Monroe lets each be a fully human actor in this real life drama.

One important goal for Monroe in real life was to apologize to each of the victims – the customers and employees in the bank traumatized by having a shotgun waved at them. One victim – a customer – was willing to comment extensively throughout the film.

Monroe includes in his interviews his professors at the NYU’s Graduate Film Program. Monroe confesses to them about his bank robbery and conviction, since he did not include that information in his application to film program. One senior professor admitted he would have done the same.

Monroe explores what we mean, when we say a person is a criminal. His Uncle Carlos philosophizes on the difference between having been convicted of a crime and being a convict. Carlos refuses to be categorized as a convict. He was convicted of a crime and paid the penalty. Clearly, Monroe chose the title “Evolution of a Criminal” to highlight how society chooses to make the crime a permanent part of a person’s character. By demonstrating the humanity of all involved in the robbery, his film argues against this idea of labeling someone a criminal or a convict forever.

There will be one more opportunity to see this film at the Grand Cinema, this Wednesday at 2 p.m. Darius Clark Monroe was present for a question-answer session on Saturday, August 16. Here is a video interview with Monroe that describes his creation of the film. The Grand Cinema is also hoping to bring the film back in November; so, check with the Grand Cinema this fall.