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Marc Forster
Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean Combs, Coronji Calhoun
Milo Addica & Will Rokos

A lifetime of change can happen in a single moment.
Box Office:
Budget $4 million
Opening weekend $174,109 on 7 screens
Domestic gross $31,252,000
Rated R for strong sexual content, language and violence.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Actress-Halle Berry.
Nominated for Best Screenplay.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $9.99
Release Date: 11/4/2008

• Audio Commentary With Director Marc Forster and Writers Milo Addica and Will Rokos
• Deleted Scenes
• “On the Set” Featurette
• “Behind the Scenes with Producer Lee Daniels” Featurette
• Cast and Director Interviews
• “Music for the Film” Featurette
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Monster's Ball [Blu-Ray] (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 29, 2015)

When Halle Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball, I felt pretty excited. This didn’t occur because I think Berry’s a terrific performer; I like her but never considered myself a fan. Instead, I responded more to the historic nature of her victory, as it marked a landmark occasion in the history of the Academy Awards.

I hadn’t seen Ball prior to the March 2002 Oscar ceremony, so my thoughts related solely to the general nature of her victory. I didn’t applaud Berry’s prize because I believed she was the most deserving actress. Indeed, I didn’t see any of the five nominated performances prior to the show, so I couldn’t base my opinions on anything other than basic feelings.

Now that I’ve seen Monster’s Ball, I know that I don’t think much of Berry’s performance. For that matter, I fail to see the appeal of Ball itself, as the film provides an off-putting and uninvolving experience.

Monster’s Ball focuses on two different dysfunctional families. The Grotowski clan includes homebound disabled patriarch Buck (Peter Boyle), his son Hank (Billy Bob Thornton), and grandson Sonny (Heath Ledger). Hank and Sonny both work at the local correctional facility where they handle executions.

No women reside in the home, as we quickly learn that the mothers of their children apparently scorned both Buck and Hank. Perhaps because of those life lessons, handsome Sonny seems to avoid relationships; he prefers to get it on with local hooker Vera (Amber Rules). All three men relate along poorly, as a lot of tension exists among them.

The Musgrove family has even more substantial issues. Lawrence (Sean Combs) sits on death row, and he will soon be executed for an undisclosed crime. His wife Leticia (Berry) and obese son Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) are left to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives, but Leticia seems unable to deal with matters. She takes out some of her anger on Tyrell when she discovers his continued consumption of candy despite Leticia’s attempts to control his caloric intake.

Tragedy strikes both families above and beyond the execution of Lawrence. We follow various problems that eventually results in an improbable relationship between Hank and Leticia.

The movie largely deals with Hank’s journey. At the start of the film, we quickly learn that Buck’s a vicious racist, and Hank displays similarly nasty characteristics. For example, when a couple of young African-American boys come on the Grotowski property at the invitation of Sonny, Hank threatens them with a rifle. He also tosses racial epithets at a black co-worker.

However, after Hank gets to know Leticia, he starts to lose his racist tendencies. In addition to his relationship with Leticia, we see a thaw between him and Ryrus (Mos Def), the father of the two boys Hank threatened early in the film. The second half of the movie largely follows the development of Hank’s personality and his connection with Leticia.

I’m all for gritty, depressing films, as I think flicks like Se7en and Sophie’s Choice are veritable classics. However, Monster’s Ball strikes me as misery for the simply sake of misery. The level of dysfunctionality seen in these families seems elevated to the point of absurdity; Jerry Springer would reject these people as being unrealistic. Ball piles on the anguish, all so it can present its forced “connection” between Hank and Leticia.

This might become more satisfactory if their relationship came across more vividly. However, I never really buy it, largely because Hank’s growth comes about too simplistically. Clearly Hank had his racism ingrained from birth, and his interactions with Buck over all those years made their mark. I find it unlikely that he could so quickly shed his bigotry and make a close connection with Leticia.

Despite the unsophisticated development of Hank, Thornton brings surprising life to the role. As written, Hank seems bland and one-dimensional, but Thornton adds true depth and spark to the role. He makes Hank believable and even sympathetic, despite the inner nastiness he displays so much of the time.

I wish I could say the same for Berry, but she doesn’t pull off the part terribly well. The main problem relates to the nature of the Leticia character. She’s supposed to display an uneducated “trailer park” personality, as demonstrated by her manner of speaking.

However, Berry shows such a consistently elegant and almost regal presence that she appears poorly cast as Leticia. That’s not to say that someone in Leticia’s circumstance can’t display grace and class, but Leticia herself shouldn’t. She should come across as earthier and more basic, and Berry can’t do it. Instead, Berry often seems like someone in a Saturday Night Live sketch as she play-acts at being ghetto fabulous.

Marc Forster’s heavy-handed direction doesn’t help matters. He piles on lame symbolism - usually via distorted reflections - and presents the story in a telegraphed manner. Forster pours on so much despair that we always wait for the inevitable next shoe to drop.

The film’s lack of depth also comes through via its many easy answers. Little gets resolved in a realistic manner. Instead, simple solutions appear, such as the way in which Hank eliminates the problem of his father.

Monster’s Ball mistakes wretchedness for realism. The film tries hard to be gritty but instead just seems pointless and artificial. Ultimately, this leaves us with a dour and miserable experience that lacks much purpose.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C- / Audio B / Bonus B

Monster’s Ball appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was an erratic presentation.

The biggest problems stemmed from digital tinkering, as the image suffered from obvious examples of both digital noise reduction (DNR) and edge enhancement. It looked like those behind the transfer sucked the detail out of the image via DNR and then tried to fix this with artificial sharpening techniques, a method that left us with prominent edge haloes.

This resulted in a hyper-sharp presentation that would probably look fine on smaller TVs but that suffered on larger sets where the shenanigans became more obvious. Definition looked too sharp and seemed false, like a TV with the “sharpness” setting all the way to the top. The DNR also resulted in unnatural clay-like skin tones.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, but we did get some print flaws. These remained minor, but I saw occasional specks and marks. While these failed to become a big issue, a movie of this one’s vintage should’ve been cleaner.

Ball featured a fairly stylized palette, especially during its first half. As the relationship between Hank and Leticia developed, the colors became more natural and realistic. During the earlier portions of the film, though, many of the tones appeared intentionally desaturated, and the jail scenes featured a distinct green cast. In any case, the disc replicated the colors nicely; whether stylized or natural, the hues appeared clear and vivid at all times.

Black levels also came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was decent; some interiors seemed a bit muddy – probably connected to the noise reduction – but they weren’t bad. In the end, the heavy-handed DNR and sharpening techniques made this a disappointment.

While the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Monster’s Ball lacked any significant problems, I gave it a “B” due to its general lack of sonic ambition. The soundfield largely resided in the forward channels. Music displayed good stereo presence, and effects created a modestly engaging level of ambience.

The surrounds usually stayed with general atmosphere, and they only came to life moderately during a few scenes; the execution segment used the rear speakers effectively, as did a rainstorm and a couple of other bits. However, the score and dialogue dominated the film, so don’t expect a lot of effects activity from the sides or surrounds.

Audio quality seemed positive. Dialogue appeared natural and warm, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded accurate and distinct. They presented good depth and fidelity and displayed clear and realistic tones.

Music worked best, as the score seemed vivid and lively. Dynamic range was positive, and bass response appeared deep and tight. Overall, the soundtrack worked fine for the movie.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2002 DVD? Audio sounded a bit richer and fuller, while visuals appeared more concise. Even with the problems on display, this was still a step up over the DVD – it just lacked the expected levels of improvement.

The Blu-ray mixes extras from the original DVD and a 2003 reissue. We open with an audio commentary from director Marc Forster and writers Milo Addica and Will Rokos. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/character/script areas, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, editing and connected areas.

The commentary takes on an unusual flavor due to Forster’s participation. While the director throws in some of his own observations, he often acts more as interviewer – and as a needy interviewer at that. Forster peppers the writers with questions about their work but also seems to seek their approval, as he often wants to know what they think of the end result. This creates a commentary with reasonable informational value but not consistency.

Four deleted scenes run a total of four minutes, five seconds. The first of these sheds a little more light on sad little Tyrell and seems moderately interesting. Another depicts Hank as he chats with Lawrence and feels pointless. The other two deal with Hank and Buck, and they appear redundant.

We get a few featurettes. On the Set lasts four minutes, 21 seconds and isn’t really a featurette at all. Instead, it offers a collection of outtakes, all of which show Billy Bob Thornton at his goofiest during the shoot. These aren’t the standard “flub a line and laugh” chum. Instead, we see Thornton as he offers bizarre improvised lines and also plays one scene as his character from Sling Blade. It’s good stuff - we could have used more of it.

Music for the Film takes eight minutes, 20 seconds and gives us interview clips from composers Chris Beaty, Thad Spencer, and Richard Werbowenko as well as director Forster and editor Matt Chesse. We also watch the composers at work in the studio. The program offers a decent look at the musical efforts, as the participants discuss the tone they wanted to achieve. However, the show seems a little thin and doesn’t provide a lot of depth about the subject.

Behind the Scenes with Producer Lee Daniels goes for 18 minutes, 24 seconds and offers info from Daniels. He discusses his movie career, the roots and development of Ball, financing and locating a director, casting, his role in the production, and some connected areas. Daniels offers an open, frank take on the material that gives us a good view of various production topics.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get 19 minutes, 41 seconds of Cast and Director Interviews. We hear from Forster and actors Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, and Sean Combs.We learn about what drew the participants to the project, characters and performances. A few decent notes emerge, but much of the content remains fairly superficial.

What does the Blu-ray lose from the original DVD? It drops two audio commentaries, one from Forster and director of photography Roberto Schaefer and another from Forster, Thornton and Berry. I thought both tracks seemed spotty, but I still feel disappointed they didn’t show up here.

I wanted to like Monster’s Ball and honestly thought I would, as I often find a lot of merit in this sort of dark tale. However, the movie revels in its misery and fails to deliver a realistic or involving experience. Instead, it suffers from heavy-handed storytelling and excessive simplicity. The Blu-ray offers good audio and some useful bonus materials but visuals suffer from problems related to noise reduction and edge sharpening. If you want to own a copy, I’d still recommend the Blu-ray over the DVD, but this wasn’t an impressive transfer.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of MONSTER'S BALL

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main