Exquisite and Thought-Provoking
People are going to decide that Monster's Ball is a good film. I agree, even think it's a great film, but it's an unconventional and surprising one which plays with our expectations without dominating us by its excessiveness.
Relative newcomer Mark Forster directs a most beautiful film to watch. The use of framing, rack focus, and other camera tricks mostly serve to reinforce any given moment without distracting from it, with a couple exceptions that could perhaps be up for debate. Monster's is also a very quiet film, and if at all possible, I recommend checking out what's playing in the theater next door as any sustained excitement will likely leak through. And likewise, I found it impossible to simply shovel down my popcorn without the crunching reaching the ears of those nearby. The mood of the film really puts us into a different state of rapt attention than really fits with snacking anyway.
The script from the likewise unknown Milo Addica and Will Rokos sets the foundation for the raw emotion on the screen. There are several masterstrokes that really make the story work.
But what makes the film work is the acting. As restrained yet powerful as the script, Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry aren't just there on screen, but fully inhabit their characters with no apparent knowledge of the camera's existence. Supporting actors Peter Boyle and even Sean Combs likewise have powerfully subdued performances. It's a surprise only Halle Berry has been nominated for an Oscar, though both principles have won lesser awards for their acting in this film. My best guess is that everyone already knew that Billy Bob Thornton could do this.
It's interesting to note that there was so much hubbub over Swordfish when Berry bared her breats a few seconds for an extra half million in pay, yet she goes considerably further here for what may have been significantly less in the overall figure. The difference is that Swordfish was strictly exploitation. The studio assuredly gained back there investment at least a couple times over.
For all my praise, I wonder if we could have had an even better film. The thing is that for all my rumination, every aspect I might want to change can easily be argued for keeping as it was shot. So, for me personally, the film is greater than itself, and shares with us the impact of all the possible stories we might have been shown, not just the one we see.
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