Director  Darius Clark Monroe in Evolution of a Criminal (Evolution of a Criminal Film)

Director Darius Clark Monroe in Evolution of a Criminal (Evolution of a Criminal Film)

Directed by Darius Clark Monroe
USA. 83 min. Not rated

We all make assumptions about what a movie based on the title. In this case, I assumed this documentary would be about how a person becomes a criminal after starting out as innocent. And while the film touches a bit on that, it also suggests something I hadn’t considered at first: the evolution of a person after they have committed a crime. In many ways, this film defies the easy meaning we might assign to the title.

A sensitive child, Darius Clark Monroe was deeply in tune to the worries of his family, who often did not have money to pay bills. He grew up in a close-knit and, it seems, hardworking family in a small town, Stafford, Texas. As a young boy, he experienced an invasive burglary. He was not home, but the burglars came in through the roof, leaving a huge hole above his bed. They wiped the family out of all their electronics, and that thrust him into fear as well as the realization of how poor they were.

Monroe was a good student and 16 when he robbed a bank.

The slow pace and multiple points of view (accomplices, a district attorney, victims of the 1997 robbery) and a nonlinear time frame build a feeling of suspense. The details Monroe provides and elicits from his interviews bring a specificity that is terrific. When his mother finds the box with money (tens of thousands of dollars) on her bed, she says, ‘I don’t remember if I started screaming, but I do know I started itching all over, because I couldn’t believe it.”

His entire family knew that he had robbed a bank (the total haul was about $140,000), but they didn’t call the police because they didn’t want to turn in their child. The money was used to pay electric, light, and water bills for many family members as well as to help a cousin whose house was in foreclosure.  Monroe was sentenced as adult and given five years. The driver of the vehicle was also charged, but the gunman was not.

How Monroe evolved to becoming a filmmaker is explored, yet I was left with this feeling about Monroe: there was no evolution at all. He actually was always the same person: a sweet kid, doing a stupid thing, growing into a thoughtful adult who sees the consequences of his actions. He’s making choices, unconsciously as a teen, consciously as an adult. He didn’t evolve from or to, but just lived in the circumstances of his life.