Monster’s Ball

Monster’s Ball (2001)
Studio Home Entertainment (Sterling)
Cast: Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes,

Marc Forster directed one of the most visually accomplished and emotionally provocative films in the Dramatic Competition at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival (shot on digital) called "Everything Put Together."

"With its multi-textured abstractions and filtered fluidity, ‘Everything Put Together’ represents urgent, emotive, and innovative filmmaking." Rebecca Yeldham (2000 Sundance Film Festival).

The same can be said about the visual style Forster used to create "Monster’s Ball". From the opening image, Forster set the tone and once hooked, kept you on edge. This time using film.

"Monster’s Ball" is about Hank (Billy Bob Thorton), a prison guard, who wants desperately to break free from the cage set by his racist father. And Leticia (Halle Berry), who wants desperately to break free from a different cage, in order to find companionship and someone to take care of her. Plain and simple – Hank is white. Leticia is black. When Hank’s son does something that changes Hank’s life forever, Hank quits the prison. And when Leticia loses her only ‘possession’ worth having, they cross paths and form an unlikely bond.

The movie stands on edge as it teeters on the uncertainty of truth and a potentially deadly and disastrous relationship between a white man, from a racist family, and a black woman, who once was the wife of a convict, struggling with her own identity. Can this relationship work? Hank states, "It runs in the family." — which gives the impression that their relationship will be an uphill battle from the beginning.

This movie isn’t about racism, but is a coming of age film about two people, who are more different than they are similar. They allow themselves to be the people they truly are and in doing so, they form a special relationship. Both are absolutely flawed characters. Leticia is a closet alcoholic and Hank hides behind the power of his father.

Did Halle Berry deserve the best actress award for her role as Leticia? You might have to wait till the very last scene to convince yourself that this truly was a powerful performance. There are action driven, character driven and dialogue driven films. This is a both a character and dialogue driven story with minimal dialogue. The absolute strength in the dialogue is in the unspoken word. It’s the subtext and the multiple character layers, contributing to this multi-textured film. Halle Berry conveys this as strongly or stronger than the other actresses nominated for best Actress 2001.

In a powerful scene where Leticia punishes her son for eating candy, the truths of a single mother and how her struggles lead to a spontaneous action behind closed doors, was heart wrenching and hard to watch. Berry owned this character from start to finish. Thornton was also comfortable in his role. His internal reaction upon finding out Halle Berry was Musgrove’s (Sean Combs) wife was subtle yet carried a lot of weight. In that one scene he went from boyish innocence to a grown man who has to deal with a heavy burden.

This was a low-budget film by today’s standards of filmmaking. The actors were paid scale. Yet all actors, from the smallest to the leads (obviously cast with a careful eye), were completely grounded in their roles. Was that "Everyone Loves Raymond"(s) dad? Peter Boyle was completely convincing as Hank’s racist father. Sean Combs takes a break from P. ‘Diddying’ to play a convict on the eve of his execution. Both Combs and Heath Ledger, who plays Hank’s son, portray a poignant role of innocence lost.

"Monster’s Ball" comes as a very nice transfer from Lion’s Gate Entertainment. It is presented in its 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The transfer is sharp and detailed and somewhat haunting. There are some instances where the film looks ‘soft’ or desaturated, but this was most likely intentional within the context and tone of the film – giving it a n almost surreal feel at times. Credit this to both Forster and his cinematographer, Roberto Schaefer – who knew that he (Schaefer) could go from shooting "Best in Show" and "Waiting for Guffman" to such a visually compelling film?

"Monster’s Ball" is presented in a rich <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> mix on this DVD. The frequency response of the track is very wide with a good, though unobtrusive, bass extension and clear high ends that are free of distortion or sibilance. Dialogue quality is crisp and clear and the music score by "Asche And Spencer" adds notably to the mystery, ambiance and emotional pace of the film.

You are treated to two commentaries on this release. The first one is by Mark Forster and Roberto Schaefer. The other one features director Mark Forster and his stars Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. It’s great to hear a typically ‘new’ director discuss his choices because its not just about the fun and games with the actors and crew, but the real reasons why shots and sequences are chosen and why a director finds a specific scene or shot ‘interesting’. The commentary was quite serious and not as candid as you’d get with Cameron Crowe or the Cohen Brothers. The tone of the commentary may reflect the tone of the production and the demand for a serious performance from the actors. The result- an Oscar for Halle Berry.

The release also contains a ‘Behind the Scenes’ featurette, a selection of ‘Deleted Scenes’ and a ‘Music Score Featurette’, all of which are very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the ‘IFC’s Anatomy Of A Scene’, listed as a Special Feature on the DVD case, is not part of the DVD.

From the acting to the cinematography, this movie consistently surprised me and exceeded my expectations. The ending leaves you with questions and not answers. You know that the characters have journeyed to a certain place in their lives and at this point it may not be a fairy tale ending, but their lives are better than they were before they met.