Tracing 'Evolution of a Criminal'

Posted: August 01, 2014

* EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL. 12:45 p.m. Sunday, BlackStar Film Festival, International House. Tickets: $10. Info:

* THE KILLING. Season 4 on Netflix beginning today.

LANDING SPIKE LEE as executive producer of his first film is only a piece of the good fortune of Darius Clark Monroe.

An honor student who became a bank robber at 16 in an attempt to help his family, Monroe was sentenced to five years in prison, emerging with a determination to go to New York University to learn how to make movies.

He's made one, and on Sunday, he will bring his story to the BlackStar Film Festival, which began yesterday in West Philadelphia.

"Evolution of a Criminal" isn't about Monroe's journey from prison to his NYU master's degree so much as about examining the events that led him to rob a Texas bank - and returning to face the people he hurt or who knew him only as a criminal.

The movie premiered at Austin's South by Southwest in March, and last week Monroe and Lee were in Beverly Hills, Calif., talking about the film, scheduled to air on PBS' "Independent Lens" on Jan. 12.

"It has been incredible," Monroe said afterward when I asked about the film-festival circuit.

"The biggest thing has just been to see how I share this personal story and how open the audience is to not only embracing it but to sharing their own struggles with forgiveness, their own mistakes, their own bad choices . . . It's actually been quite spiritual, and also cathartic," he said, adding, laughing, "When I screen the film for audiences, it's like therapy."

Reporters had been curious how someone sentenced as an adult could even get into the University of Houston and New York University. (Lee, who teaches at NYU, said that if Monroe "had told people he robbed a bank, he would not have gone to NYU graduate film school.")

Turns out the question on financial aid forms, Monroe said, was "have you ever been convicted of a drug-related felony?"

He hadn't, but the irony isn't lost on him.

In prison, he met men serving "quadruple the time" for "small drug offenses" that he'd received for aggravated bank robbery.

"It was shocking. So many young guys were in there for small amounts of marijuana, for cocaine, and they were doing serious time - 30, 40 years - at 17 years old."

'The Killing' returns

"The Killing" is not going gently into that good night.

The drama returns for a final six episodes not on AMC, which canceled it twice, but on Netflix, which releases the entire season for streaming today.

Expect franker language and longer episodes as detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) take on a new case even as the conclusion of their last one hangs over them as heavy as Seattle fog. (If you don't know, or have forgotten, how Season 3 ended - it matters - all three previous seasons are also available on Netflix.)

I wasn't eager to revisit "The Killing," which has a way of starting strong and ending poorly, but I've seen four of the six and I'm intrigued enough to come back and see if executive producer Veena Sud sticks the landing this time.

Joan Allen guest-stars as the superintendent of a military boarding school who becomes guardian to one of her cadets after his family is murdered - a crime in which he's a suspect.

And Linden and Holder may have even bigger problems as their past, like "The Killing" itself, refuses to stay buried.


Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray


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