MONSTERíS BALL ($25) is a powerful drama about two emotionally bereft people who find an unlikely love amidst tragedy. Billy Bob Thornton stars as Hank Grotowski, a second-generation corrections officer from the south, who finds himself caught between the expectations of his bigoted father Buck (Peter Boyle) and the ideology his tolerant, more sensitive son Sonny (Heath Ledger), whom he has brought into the "family business." Unfortunately, Hank feels a great deal of resentment towards his son, with the long simmering situation escalating out of control, when Sonny has difficulties performing his duties during the execution of prisoner Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs).
Just as Hankís life reaches its bleakest point, fate intervenes and he meets a black woman named Leticia (Halle Berry), whom Hank later learns is the widow of the man he recently took to the electric chair. Initially, the two take solace from one another, but as their relationship continues, each comes to think that they may have found the possibility for some sort of future with a bit of happiness. I donít think that MONSTERíS BALL is not an easy film for audiences to immediately relate. The film begins bleakly, plus the characters have an emotional remoteness that makes them unattractive. However, as MONSTERíS BALL progresses, the characterís buried humanity begins to shine through.
What makes MONSTERíS BALL a film worth seeing is the outstanding performances of its cast. It came as no surprise when Halle Berry earned herself an Academy Award for Best Actress for her raw, emotional portrayal. However, what I did find surprising about MONSTERíS BALL was the fact that the Academy failed to even nominate Billy Bob Thornton or Peter Boyle for their outstanding work. Even Heath Ledger deserves praise for his portrayal. Director Marc Forster allows the actors to immerse themselves in their roles and his naturalistic style never shies away from the more unpleasant moments in these characters lives. In fact, much of MONSTERíS BALL is like an exposed nerve- extremely painful and completely lacking in protection.
Lion's Gate Home Entertainment has made MONSTERíS BALL available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. MONSTERíS BALL is not an attractive looking movie; it is a low budget affair and features rather stark cinematography. However, Iíd have to rate the transfer as excellent for rendering the film as cleanly and as well defined as it appears on the DVD. Colors are decidedly muted, but flesh tones remain realistic throughout the course of the film. Blacks are accurately reproduced and the contrast is a little harsh, but that works in favor of the movieís overall atmosphere. The film element is free from blemishes, however grain is noticeable in a number of places throughout. The dual layer DVD doesnít betray any signs of digital compression artifacts.
MONSTERíS BALL features an intimate, but very effective Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. This is very much a dialogue driven film, with few opportunities for active sound effects, but the sound designers did take good advantage of digital formatís capabilities to create realistic sonic environments, as well as rendering the filmís haunting score in an immersive manner. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced, with intelligibility being limited only by performance. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Music and a bit of animation serve to enhance the DVDís stylishly somber interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. MONSTERíS BALL features two running audio commentaries; the first is with director Marc Forster and director of photography Roberto Schaefer, while the second includes director Forster again, along with actors Billy Bob Thorton and Halle Berry. Both commentaries have their merits; the first covers the technical bases, while the second offers more insight into the acting process. I think most individuals will find the second commentary more accessible, so that is the one with which they should start.
The Behind The Scenes section offers more than four minutes worth of outtakes, with the highlight being Billy Boy revisiting his SLING BLADE character. Scoring The Film runs eight minutes and provides interviews with the director and composers, as well as a looking at the scoring sessions. Four Deleted Scenes are included on the DVD, and while they add further depth to the characters, they really donít advance the story and were obviously cut for pacing. A trailer for the video release of MONSTERíS BALL closes out the supplements.
As I stated above, MONSTERíS BALL is a powerful drama that doesnít portray its characters in a very flattering light. However, the movie does offer huge payoffs, thanks to the outstanding performances of a first rate cast. Lionís Gate has done a truly fine job with the DVD, making this a disc that fans of the movie will want to own.
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