Monster’s Ball

January 28, 2012 10 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?

I found it a bit surprising that Monster’s Ball was presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic ratio as I would have expected it to have been shot in a "narrower" 1.85:1 ratio. The budget was rather small and for some reason I usually associate the more "independent" films with the more common aspect ratio. That aside, the transfer for Monster’s Ball is very good, great in fact. Being a new movie to DVD, we can expect that most of the errors that plague some of the older catalog titles are not present here. No edge enhancement can be found, the colors are a bit muted but that’s due to the way the film was shot. Black levels are right on target and the level of detail is simply amazing. We can appreciate the transfer during Halle Berry’s sex scene! Only kidding…

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, is not as strong as I would have thought. I saw this movie in theaters and seem to remember it being a bit stronger. Of course, this movie isn’t really associated with audio as most every movie, independent or otherwise, seems to have a Dolby Digital 5.1 track attached to it (and just because 5.1 is attached, it doesn’t guarantee a great soundtrack). For the most part, the track comes alive at key points during the film, but as for the rest of it, it’s dialogue driven. Surround effects are used very sparingly and I’d wager to say that most of the action takes place on the front three channels. Is this bad? No. Still, if you’re looking for something to show off your system with, try another disc.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Sporting not one, but two commentary tracks, Monster’s Ball has one that features Mark Forester and Roberto Schaefer (the director and the director of photography respectively) which I would call a more "technical" commentary. The two chat most of the way through and I learned a few things that I was surprised to hear. The track that I was more impressed with is the one with Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton, being an experienced screenwriter and Berry having just won her Oscar have a lot to say about the film in general. Forester also contributes on this track as well. They talk of troubles with the production and the cast in general. If you want to listen to only one of the two tracks, I’d pick this one. There are four deleted scenes shown in non-anamorphic widescreen. Though only four are shown, I can imagine there are more. The movie obviously held up pretty well on its own, so I suppose there are good reasons that these were cut from the film. A featurette entitled "Scoring the Film" is also shown. Director Mark Forester tells how the movie was scored and how that most of the music of the film is in our subconscious. A rather underappreciated art, but one that adds life to the film. Next up are some behind the scenes footage, broken up into three parts. The first is "Getting into Character" which is rather self explanatory. The next is "Billy Boy Keeps Each Take Fresh" and the last (and funniest) is "Hank as Played by Karl". Karl is Thornton’s character from Sling Blade. It adds some humor to the featurette and is rather funny. The back of the box states that there is another feature entitled "IFC’s Anatomy of a Scene", but I couldn’t seem to find it on the disc. A little help, anyone? I did manage to find an Easter Egg in the form of a trailer (it’s on the Special Features menu just above the link to the trailer. All in all, Monster’s Ball is a great DVD. The movie is moving, powerful and a welcome addition to your collection, but if you’re iffy on the subject matter, perhaps a rental is in order.

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