Monster’s Ball (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Every year, around the Holiday season, movies that are “critically acclaimed” come out. Their main goal, aside from making money, is to hopefully garner the favor of the Academy and ultimately win the coveted “Best Picture” Oscar. Obviously, only one film can win and it’s a shame that the film from last year wasn’t Monster’s Ball. Most have called it the best film of the year (then again, they’ll put anything on the box and/or movie poster to more appealing), and who am I to disagree? I will say that it’s certainly one of the most depressing movies I’ve seen in a while; right up there with Leaving Las Vegas and Requiem for a Dream. Yes, it’s that depressing. But every cloud has a silver lining and although the film deals with the deep racism in the South, there may be something happy once the closing credits roll. Starring two Academy Award winners in the form of Halle Berry (who won for her role here) and Billy Bob Thornton (a native of my area, Arkansas). In somewhat of an odd turn, Heath Ledger, an Australian, gives a good though short performance as the troubled son.

The film centers around the family of the Grotowski’s, a family that has been in law enforcement going for at least three generations. Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) is currently in charge of the local town and his son, a rookie, is having his own troubles with the family business. Aptly named Sonny (Heath Ledger) is a statement for America’s youth, he has some inborn racism in him, but he seems willing to let it go perhaps signifying that the time of hatred based on skin color is just about at its end. Currently the town is getting ready to execute Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), who has been in prison for quite some time. His son (Corinji Calhoun) shares his passion for art, as he is very gifted and likes to doodle. His weight is a problem, though, and his mother (Halle Berry) is constantly on him to get some exercise and lose those extra pounds. The execution takes place, though Sonny makes a mess of it and decides that this life isn’t for him. Leticia (Berry) works at the local coffee shop and soon meets up with Hank and it turns out that he’s taking care of his terminally ill father, Buck (Peter Boyle). The two start becoming friends which eventually leads to more than that, but trouble is around every corner…

I will go ahead and say that I left out some very key details to the movie, namely because if you knew these before seeing it, I feel that it would ruin the experience. Monster’s Ball isn’t an easy movie to watch, it’s depressing and if you’re offended easily then I might recommend against it. Containing one of the most brutal sex scenes that I’ve ever seen on (studio) film, the language and subject matter are all difficult to swallow. The reward, however, is a very true to life, utterly realistic movie that will keep you thinking long after you watch the credits roll. I feel Halle Berry was justly rewarded for her performance here, proving that she’s not just another pretty face (and she is). Billy Bob Thornton is great here too, and the supporting cast does a fine job as well. Time will tell if this movie stands the test of time or if it’s just another “critically acclaimed” film that got cheated out of some well-deserved Oscars. Just bring plenty of Kleenex, as you might need them.

Video: How does it look?

“Monster’s Ball” makes its debut on Blu-ray with a newly minted HD transfer. This 2.35:1 image was wider than expected for a movie like this, though I can certainly appreciate the sheer scope of the image on my HDTV. I can recall viewing the movie on standard DVD when it came out and being fairly impressed with the way it looked. “Monster’s Ball” is dark in both the scope of the film and the physical look and feel of it. Shadows under the eyes and the general ambiance of the film all contribute to a very dark-looking transfer. That said, the detail level has been greatly enhanced and the film possesses a sharpness that’s quite impressive indeed. While this isn’t the best-looking transfer on Blu-ray, it’s far from the worst.

Audio: How does it sound?

The old Dolby Digital 5.1 track has been replaced by a new DTS HD Master mix that increases the volume, but not necessarily the effectiveness of the track. There wasn’t a whole lot going on in terms of audio, mainly just a dialogue-driven mix that sounds very clean and fresh. Surround effects are present, though sparce and they add a bit of excitement to a few key scenes. Again, like the video, the audio has been improved but there are far better examples of dynamic audio out there than this.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I halfway expected LionsGate to release a Blu-ray version of their standard DVD, but there are some new features in here. First of all, we lose one of the audio commentaries that was found on the original standard DVD (the one with Thornton and crew), but we’ve got one with director Mark Forester and the Academy Award nominated writers Milo Addica and Will Rokos. The same four deleted scenes are included as is the featurette on the music for the film. We have some rather dull cast and crew interviews as well as an interview with producer Lee Daniels. I was surprised not to see an homage to Heath Ledger (the real reason this movie is out on Blu-ray), but his performance speaks for itself.

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