The Austin Chronicle

SXSW Film Review: 'Evolution of a Criminal'

By Jordan Smith, March 9, 2014, 9:03am, SXSW

Darius Clark Monroe was a good boy who did a bad thing.

At 16, he was a junior in high school, a straight-A student taking advanced placement classes, popular, well-liked by teachers, and deeply connected to his immediate and extended family.

And then he robbed a bank.

Plagued with worry about his family's chronically difficult financial situation, Monroe and two friends plotted and then robbed a suburban Houston bank. He was caught and certified as an adult to stand trial for the crime. Facing seven counts of aggravated robbery and seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon – and a possibility of up to 99 years in prison – Monroe did what roughly 97% of all criminal defendants do: He took a plea bargain. Monroe was sentenced to five years, of which he served three, from 1998 to 2001.

How Monroe's life took a hard right turn, and what he's done to atone for that sin, is the subject of this moving film – a remarkably honest autobiography of a bad choice and its aftermath, an insightful study in cause and effect.

Indeed, Monroe's is also a story about redemption and second-chances. His unblinking analysis of his decision to rob the bank – an ill-conceived plan concocted by an adolescent mind – is heartbreaking, but also inspiring. It is clear that he understands deeply the ripple effects that his actions have had, not only on his own life, but on the lives of his family members and, importantly, of his victims – the seven people inside the bank the day he burst in with a friend, wielding a shotgun and carrying a black gym bag.

All too often, many of us look at individuals who commit crimes as "the other," people about whom we make snap judgments and for whom we have little sympathy. What Monroe is able to achieve with this film, in part, is to demonstrate that holding so narrow a view does a disservice to us all, and it discounts the reality that time and pressure can lead any of us to a bad decision – and that that same combination of elements can also reveal a diamond.

Evolution of a Criminal

Visions, World Premiere
Sunday, March 9, 2pm, Alamo Slaughter
Tuesday, March 11, 4:30pm, Rollins
Wednesday, March 12, 7pm, Alamo Village

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