An admirable film from a first time director that reveals an innate storytelling ability, if at times lacking finesse.
Evolution of a Criminal
Darius Clarke Monroe’s uniquely personal début documentary, Evolution of a Criminal tells the director’s own story of how he went from an ambitious college student to committing armed robbery of a local Bank of America. The film follows his story mostly through the accounts of his friends, family and those who were a victim of the crime. Darius provides his own personal perspective on the events which led to his arrest, his subsequent time in prison, and his eventual success at being admitted into New York University.
On the surface Evolution of a Criminal has all the hallmarks of the typical true-crime documentary. Evolution of a Criminal begins with the re-enacted footage of Darius being arrested, punctuated with ‘talking head’ interviews with those connected to Darius and archive footage of him and his family. These conventional documentary techniques, however, are given an extra dimension because of his personal involvement in the crime and the making of the documentary. In particular, the fact that Darius himself is conducting the interviews with family members serves to make them all the more emotional and dramatic, as his interviewees often break out into tears, revealing to Darius the pain and torment they were going through when he was arrested. Darius’ personal relationship with his accomplices also helps give an insight into their motivations to commit the crime, this is something that would have been difficult for an ‘outsider’ to achieve. Towards the end of the film there are a fascinating series of encounters between Darius and those who were in the bank at the time, which exposes the impact that crime can have beyond the obvious effect on the bank itself.
Evolution of a Criminal is a thoughtful and intelligent film, yet it does occasionally suffer from its clearly low production costs. This is particularly obvious within the re-enactment scenes which are a little dull and lack the acting quality or polish of recent documentaries, such as the critically acclaimed The Imposter. This causes problems in the middle of the film where he describes the scene of the crime. The amateurish nature of the re-enactments, coupled with the laid-back personality of Darius, who is telling the story at this point, does leave the film lacking in drama when it should be at its most dramatic. It is within these scenes that Darius does show his lack of experience. A little more finesse with the editing of these scenes may have heightened the dramatic effect, despite the film’s low-budget.
Evolution of a Criminal is a careful, but sometimes frustratingly cautious film. Details of Darius’ family life, his relationship with his mother and his father, their hard work, their diligence, and their poverty is retold in painstaking detail. Yet, whilst Darius hints at the politics behind crime, most notably a demoralizing lack of income despite his parents holding down two jobs, he doesn’t interrogate in detail the question over whether his crime is emblematic of a crushing cycle of poverty, as much as it is his own youthful naiveté. There is also a brief account of the trials of prison, including cotton picking and the lack of escape for those stuck inside the system and given Darius’ insight, it leaves you hoping for a little more, but Darius quickly moves back to his personal journey. A wholesale attack on the system would be at odds with Darius’ innate optimism which comes across strongly in the film. Darius’s positivity is infectious and it is refreshing to see a medium, that is often used to explore the horrors of the world, being used to tell a story with a positive message, as Darius achieves his dreams.
In the end Evolution of a Criminal is an admirable film from a first time director, one which reveals his innate storytelling ability, even if it occasionally lacks the polish and finesse of more experienced directors. It will certainly be interesting to see what stories Darius has to tell besides his own and his next film will more than likely be eagerly anticipated.