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Imprisoned within a correctional facility in America’s South, Laurence Musgrove, a black criminal, becomes the bridge that guides his self-destructive wife, Leticia, and his bitter corrections officer and executor, Hank, into the most unlikely relationship that offers a promise of salvation to both individuals.

Hank Grotowski is trying to come to terms with his co-worker and son, Sonny, who seems misplaced within such an astringent family as the third generation male, whilst Leticia is taking the incorrect approach to discipline her obese son, Tyrell. The domestic flaws within both damaged families are subsequent to the tragic events that follow and ultimately initiate the powerful and unlikely affiliation between Hank and Leticia.

Monster's Ball

Previous indie film director Marc Forster (who directed the compelling art house flick Everything Put Together) has obviously lived up to his respected talent to concoct such an evocative piece of drama. The film is structured in such a way that allows audiences to comprehensively understand its characters without any bias, courtesy of the Oscar nominated duo who wrote the film, Milo Addica and Will Rokos. Addica and Rokos have created four extremely ugly and desperate characters whom, through almost flawless directing and scripting, are created in ways that don’t swindle audiences into sympathising with them but alternatively encourage audiences to connect with them through their acquired understandings of character. On a further note, this film wouldn’t be the masterpiece it is if it weren’t for the two leads and two supports. Berry and Thornton create phenomenal chemistry on screen together, and, despite what critics may say about Oscar competition, Berry proves to be most worthy of her Oscar win. Thornton is just as good as a drained and sour officer whose flee to an immediate source of fulfilment unexpectedly relieves his desperation. When I first heard that Australia’s (teen) icon, Heath Ledger, was set to start in such an emotional film I was almost turned off, however, his strong yet brief performance was most definitely a pleasant surprise. Peter Boyle’s hard-hitting and chilling performance almost has the potential to stop audiences of Monster’s Ball watching the television sitcom favourite of ours, Everybody Loves Raymond, with no questions asked!

Monster’s Ball is definitely a difficult movie to swallow. The situations that the characters encounter are just as uncomfortable for audiences as they are to themselves. The storyline is simplistic, and at some times slow, which is sure to affect the ways in which some audiences respond to the film. Faithful fans of independent film are more likely to appreciate this unexpected, yet most welcome gem than those who seek fulfilment in such films as Ms. Berry’s usual Hollywood blockbusters.

Monster's Ball

Marc Forster’s powerful creation proves to be nothing short of a masterpiece, one that explores the establishment of new grounds from tragic seeds. Monster’s Ball is easily one of the most worthy and deserved films of 2001.

Video
As usual, Columbia has kindly mastered the presentation of this commendable film. Monster’s Ball is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer that, overall, is quite impressive. The setting of the film is in America’s South and the nice frame offers some genuinely pleasing imagery of the widespread landscape. As this film is more of a character piece, the camera initially limits its main focus to its characters and their (usually interior) surroundings. The picture is usually quite crisp, with only very occasional grain.

Audio
We’re given the quite popular Dolby Digital 5.1 surround treatment, which seems to correspond quite substantially with the nature of such a film that doesn’t rely upon mind-blowing special effects or dazzling visuals. All of the speakers are used, not to the best of their ability, but the smooth and consistent quality of the sound is still most certainly complimentary.

One of the most crucial attributes to the film is the gripping and haunting score. During particular key scenes in the film, the score is considered to be more significant than the occurring dialogue. The fairly substantial 5.1 surround mix demonstrates the importance of the score’s accompaniment and at its best doesn’t “accidentally” dominate the film’s dialogue. The dialogue is generally clear and at all times audible, making this soundtrack a considerable one.

Monster's Ball

Extras
Initially, I was the owner of a Region 1 release of Monster’s Ball. In comparison to the Region 4 version of the DVD, the Region 1 release contained four deleted scenes, a second commentary from director Marc Forster and screenwriter Roberto Schaefer, a few outtakes and some behind the scenes footage. The region 1 release was also the R-Rated theatrical version with several cuts made to sex scenes. The region 4 release is labelled as “the explicit version” that was not screened in cinemas, the latter presumably indicating we have received the feature in its uncut form.

Not included on the region 1 release, however, was the 24-minute Anatomy of a Scene Documentary that The Sundance Channel has been known to attach to DVD releases of selected indie films. The Anatomy of a Scene documentary is intended to do exactly what its title suggests. A particular scene from the film is selected and is deconstructed in terms of scene, location, cinematography and music. These segments are studied in direct detail with supporting comments from a panel of cast and crew members. Anatomy of a Scene featurettes are intended to offer further education to those who are looking for a further insight to the technicality of a film, which is a nice change from those very brief featurettes that are only intended for promotional use.

Also not included on the region 1 release are thirteen minutes worth of cast and crew interviews. Marc Forster, Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry and Peter Boyle offer some insightful comments in response to character, scripting and the message of the film in addition to sharing experiences of working with one and other.

As well as the above exclusives, we also have an impressive commentary with director Marc Forster and the two leads, Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. Unlike many commentaries with two or more people, this one is delivered in a comprehensive manner; including discussion of both technical production of the film and the shared experiences on-board the project. All three of them seem likeable and their respect for one and other has obviously produced an entertaining and educational commentary track. We also have another featurette entitled Behind the Music which explores the creation and inspiration behind the soundtrack. For those who can appreciate the depth and mood of the soundtrack, this little beauty is well worth a look. To finish off the package, we are told that [/b]two movie trailers[/b] are included. Beware, the packaging deceives. One of the supposed trailers is a 30 second TV Spot, and the other is nothing but an appalling (and critically dominated) DVD Release trailer. Hardly theatrical, if you ask me. Also included are bonus theatrical trailers for The Mothman Prophecies, Men In Black II and Spider-Man.

Although the home release of Monster’s Ball out-does its region 1 rival, there is still room for improvement. It would have been nice to have some additional extras to toy with, but we just can’t have it all. In a wrap, the DVD has a fairly adequate selection of extras. Despite the absence of the extra commentary, deleted scenes and outtakes, we can be grateful that this package actually has special features considering the film’s limited release.

Monster's Ball

Overall
Monster’s Ball is certainly a landmark film, daring to go places in which previous films that tackled the same subject didn’t go. The astonishing acting and scripting corresponds with its praised reputation and we can certainly see why this is one of the most celebrated films of 2001. Along with a nice DVD presentation, Monster’s Ball is certainly a quality asset to any film buff’s DVD collection.


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