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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Hate Crimes > Monster's Ball

Monsterís Ball


Picture: B-†††† Sound: B-†††† Extras: B†††† Film: B



It was an unforgettable moment of triumph when Halle Berry deservedly won her Academy Award for playing Leticia in Monsterís Ball (2001), but we can only hope it does not stop people from seeing the film, because it offers far more than just good acting in a marginal film.Instead, Marc Forsterís film is a stunning indictment of institutionalized racism and why it has got to go, achieving all this without being preachy, sentimental, and pulling no punches.


Leticia is in an ugly dilemma, barely making enough money to survive, a husband (Sean Combs) who is on death row, and a son with self-esteem and weight problems.Hank (Billy Bob Thornton at his best) and his father (Peter Boyle, in a role that references his underseen, underappreciated 1970 film Joe) are two generations of explicitly racist men who happen to run death row.Especially this being the South, most of the final visitors happen to be young African American males.This circumstance creates a subtle-but-vicious cycle of more hate and wasted life.The ones who live are not immune.


Hankís jail guard son (Heath Ledger in the kind of role he needs to take on more often) could be the third generation of this nightmare legacy, but he may be the first sign of resistance.Hank is bothered by this, but in a way that becomes unexpected when he starts to notice Leticia working at the local diner.They have no idea what degree of separation stands between them and tragedy, or is that additional tragedy.


And that is just the very beginning of the layered approach the Milo Addica/Will Rokos screenplay weaves to make this film have maximum impact at every turn.Even when you think you can predict it, there is always a surprise at every corner and the acting ensemble never quits.But even more than Thornton, so reliable in serious filmmaking, is Berry.She had already demonstrated that she was a talented actress in everything from Bulworth, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, and Losing Isaiah to her unrecognizable debut in Jungle Fever, but the material and opportunity synthesize with her talent here in a way no one was expecting.


Before, you believe her pain over her life and the tragedy that befalls the people she loves, and there is the amazing sexual encounter that packs a wallop because of the intense narrative placement it has.There are even more surprises from her after that, but it is before Eros that a remarkable moment happens.Leticia is drunk, alone, cannot take it anymore, but is not crying.She has done more than enough of that lately.Instead, she starts to laugh and gain a new sense of self awareness.This happens slowly, in a cloud of pain and confusion, while she has just gotten drunk, and now wondering what will happen in her life next.All things spoken are out of love and from the heart, and she just goes for it expressing herself.She deserved the Academy Award for this moment alone, if nothing else.It is one of the most important moments in film acting in a decade.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is not bad, with good color and depth.It is not top of the line, but plays well enough.Director of Photography Roberto Schaeffer gets the cameras in there to give you a sense of really being there, which is another asset to the film, and especially one where people and issues are so prominent.I love the camerawork on this film and the cameramanís previous work was on Christopher Guest comedies!I cannot wait to see his work on Stay.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix shows the limits of the filmís budget somewhat and made me want to hear this in DTS.Now that Lionís Gate owns Artisan, letís hope they pick up their acquisitionís occasional tendency to use DTS.This is a dialogue-based film, so the expectation was not for a whirlpool of sound, but the recording is just fine otherwise.


The extras are many here, including two fine commentary tracks (choose from Forster and Schaefer or Berry and Thornton), IFC channelsí Anatomy of a Scene installment on the film, an hour of behind the scenes footage, outtakes, and deleted scenes.They are all informative and entertaining.It is also interesting to see this, then realize how far so many of those involved have come so far.The new signature DVD offers a third commentary track as well and is a DVD of equivalent performance in picture and sound.


All in all, this is a fine DVD that holds up well for being the original issue, and it offers more extras apparently.The most important thing is the film, which is one of the best independent films since the 1980s.If you have not seen it, what are you waiting for?



-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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