It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Watching “Monument Ave.,” I was reminded of the recent tragedy in Chicago when a young black man, bicycling through Bridgeport, was beaten almost to death. There is a chillingly similar scene in this movie, with a revealing twist on the sickness of racism.
The film takes place in an Irish-American section of Boston, where a gang of childhood friends, now in their 30s, supports their booze and coke habits with a loosely organized car-theft ring. Their leader is Jackie (Colm Meaney), who is capable of ordering an informer to be shot dead in a saloon and then attending the wake to pass out $100 bills to the dead boy's relatives. Second in command is Bobby (Denis Leary), who is drifting out of control and is usually in debt to Jackie because of gambling bets made during blackouts.
One night, Bobby and his friends are cruising their neighborhood in a friend's cab when they see a young black man walking alone on the street. One of the gang says they ought to beat him up “to teach him a lesson.” The others are not so enthusiastic, but the guy keeps talking until finally Bobby, fueled by cocaine and alcohol, orders the driver to turn the cab around. “Give me the gun,” Bobby says.
With Bobby as the instigator, they pile out of the taxi and force the black man inside. They drive around, as Bobby makes violent threats. There is a fake execution before Bobby sets his victim free. “There's a subway stop a block from here,” he says. “Ask around at school to see where it's safe to go.” Then he turns on his racist friend and berates him for talking big but being gutless. And we get the point: Bobby never intended to harm the black man, but staged the whole charade to teach his friend a lesson--to show him up as a phony. Bobby is the good guy here. And as that sinks in, we realize the depth of the sickness in Bobby's society. He was concerned only with making a point to his friend. He felt not a shred of empathy for the victim. He was incapable of sharing, or perhaps even seeing, his terror. Bobby, like the others, is trapped inside a watertight, airtight, thought-proof cocoon of blind tribalism.