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"Evolution of a Criminal": A tale of corruption, incarceration and redemption

Revolution of a criminal

Dante E. Clark, Vladimir Versailles and Jeremie Harris in "Evolution of a Criminal," screening Aug. 16 and 20 at The Grand Cinema. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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Oh, the glamorous life of a crook! Who hasn't fantasized about abandoning their unfulfilling, law-abiding careers to finance a life of felonious intrigue with ill-gotten gains? Night upon night of daring heists made possible through elaborate disguises and high-tech burglar gizmos. Always staying one step ahead of the fuzz in a good-natured game of cat and mouse where the cat wants to put the mouse away for 25 to life.

You know you've thought about it, and so does Hollywood. They're happy to provide us with some escapism to keep the incipient ne'er-do-well buried deep in our subconscious where it belongs. (Provided you don't illegally download your escapism.) But Tinseltown doesn't want to fill our impressionable minds with the notion that a life of crime is a ticket to the good life with zero consequences. That's why the main character usually gets their comeuppance in the last 20 minutes of the film after we've watched them live high on the hog for two hours. In Goodfellas, Henry Hill spends the bulk of the movie climbing the ranks of organized crime, but it all falls apart thanks to him running afoul of his criminal cohorts and his unchecked drug problems. Ditto Scarface. Ditto Casino. (Though it's the wife who has the unchecked drug problem in that one.) But there are exceptions to the formula: films like the Ocean's Elevenseries, where the crooks face off against worse crooks, making the lesser crooks heroes by default or The Wolf of Wall Street, where Jordan Belfort gets away with it because he's Leonardo DiCaprio. (The real Jordan Belfort got away with it because the world is terrible.)

And then there's Darius Clark Monroe's Evolution of a Criminal.

Sixteen-year-old Darius Clark Monroe didn't fit the profile of a criminal. Although his family was poor, he was an honors student, and by all accounts had a bright future ahead of him. But his family's mounting financial problems grew to be too much, even for a promising young man like Darius and - in an act of desperation - Darius and two of his friends robbed a bank. No elaborate disguises. No high-tech gadgets. No wacky hijinks of any sort.

Just felony armed robbery.

Ten years later - and several years after paying his debt to society - Monroe returns to his old neighborhood to seek forgiveness from his family, friends, teachers, his victims and the law enforcement officials who brought him to justice.

Monroe doesn't try to excuse his actions. No amount of extenuating circumstances could ever fully justify what Monroe did, so he doesn't even try. Instead, he takes full responsibility. The rest of us struggle to do that when it comes to something as innocuous as forgetting to refill the office coffee pot when we drink the last cup. We turn into little Johnnie Cochrans at the slightest twitch of an accusatory finger in our direction.

Monroe steps up and says, "Yes, I did this. It was wrong. I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Evolution of a Criminal isn't just an exception to the formula. It rewrites it.

We've had plenty of escapism for the time being.

It doesn't hurt to learn a lesson once in a while.

NOTE: Director Darius Clark Monroe will be attending and leading a discussion following the 7 p.m. screening Saturday, Aug. 16. The film is part of the 25 New Faces in Independent Film at The Grand Cinema through Aug. 20.

EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL, 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16 and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, The Grand Cinema, 606 Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $5-$9.50, grandcinema.com

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