Documentaries about someone’s redemption from a criminal act are a dime a dozen. What makes Evolution of a Criminal so notable is how it feels more like you stumbled upon someone’s home movies. The interviews are raw and intimate, as they should be. Director Darius Clark Monroe is also the subject of this moving autobiographical documentary. It’s a strong feature-length directorial debut. The reenactment scenes of the bank robbery are filmed in a vintage style with rock-solid, static compositions, bringing to mind the grainy look of crime films from the 1970s. Although more a tale of redemption than one of tragedy, Evolution of a Criminal never fails to be compelling.
Darius grew up in a poor family. His mother and stepfather worked several jobs just to stay on top of mounting debt from credit card bills. They had enough to pay the rent and get a few groceries here and there, but just barely. In the midst of this economic turmoil, their house gets robbed. The idea to rob a bank came to Darius as he was watching a local news story with his high school friends. Banks in the area had been robbed before. It didn’t look so hard. The money would be helping his friends and family get out of their economic hardship. What could possibly go wrong?
The interviews with both Darius himself and his family are shot in extreme close-ups. You can read every line and tear on their face. One of Darius’ biggest regrets about the crime is how he affected innocent bystanders at the bank. Although there was no violence at the robbery (one of the accomplices had a shotgun, but it was unloaded), the mental anguish of the bystanders is something Darius tries to atone for throughout the film. He cold calls the bystanders years later, trying to interview them for this film. Some can forgive. Others cannot. Evolution of a Criminal focuses on the bank robbery and the aftermath, not the prison time Darius served. In prison, he earned his GED and was able to better himself. He was able to rise above his jail sentence, but many other men decide not to make that choice.
Executive produced by Spike Lee, Evolution of a Criminal is an uncompromising documentary on the repercussions of a foolish afternoon bank robbery by a couple of high school kids. This film is almost too good for a directorial debut from Darius Clark Monroe. I’m excited to see what this promising talent does next.