Evolution of a Criminal
How does a boy go from being an honor student to bank robber?
That’s the simple, straightforward theme of the documentary film “Evolution of a Criminal,” which is currently being released in various parts of the country.
Produced by Spike Lee and written and directed by Darius Monroe, the film dramatically traces Monroe’s life from the point of view of the now-adult Monroe who is asking question of himself and others as he analyzes what went wrong in his youth. His film is a novel approach to film making: a robbery is dissected with the director one of the actual bank robbers.
Growing up in suburban Houston with a loving and hard-working mother and stepfather, Monroe was the kind of boy that teachers loved and his grandmother, along with his friends and peers, just knew was going to go far in life. No one expected him to rob a bank and end up in prison.
But Monroe is bright and capable of self-reflection so that he has been able – seemingly at any rate — to learn from his brush with the criminal justice system and use his skills as a story-teller and budding film director to try to explain to himself and to others how he could hijack a promising future for the quick fix of a well-planned bank heist.
After his prison stint in Huntsville, Texas where he found himself at age 17 serving a five-year sentence, Monroe took advantage of educational opportunities in prison while beginning to consider his criminal escapade from the point of view of a screenwriter and film maker.
In this 84-minute documentary, Monroe traces his life by interviewing family, friends, the prosecutor in his trial, and victims who were present in the bank when the robbery took place, searching for the pivotal events and junctures that led him to become an adolescent bank robber. But he also explores the impact of his crime on other people, discovering that the holdup has deep and lasting importance for many people. In his quest to find answers, he looks at the strain of the working–class deprivation of his family; a family that could barely survive from paycheck to paycheck and with no apparent way out of the debt that accumulates and threatens to drown such families. He stumbles upon one critical event in his young life — a break-in of their house which frightened the teenaged Monroe and nearly wiped out his parents and he – financially and emotionally.
From planning a bank robbery to attempting to bail out his financially-strapped, living-on-the-edge family to later confronting the demons of his life, Darius Monroe’s stark and at times painfully raw film enables him to successfully answer his main question about his motivation while bringing out into the open the criminal event that underscores his past.
“Evolution of a Criminal” is a powerful, moving documentary of Darius Monroe’s journey to find forgiveness and peace in a film that raises a few questions while answering others.
Criminal justice professors teaching introductory and criminological theory classes will find this a thought-provoking and discussion-evoking film that could be a nice addition to their course.