mid 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors action, comedy,
and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks, kiddie flicks, and
weepy Merchant Ivory fare
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MOVIE BIASES: This
has a lot of acclaim to live up to. Looking forward to that Berry-Thornton
love scene, though.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Billy Bob Thornton (Bandits), Halle Berry (Swordfish),
Peter Boyle (TV's
"Everybody Loves Raymond"), and director Marc Forster.
I was duly warned. Critical acclaim. Lavish praise. Golden Globes and
Oscar nomination talk. The sex scene. A dark, brooding, depressing movie.
"Monster's Ball" has all that and more. This is a haunting
movie that deserves every praise it gets and reminds us that greatness
comes in many different packages.
Hank (Thornton) is the second in a three generation family of corrections
officers, bookended by his virulently racist, aging invalid of a father
Buck (Boyle) and Hank's sensitive, moody son Sonny (Heath Ledger). Shortly
after father and son are on the job escorting death row inmate Lawrence
Musgrove (a surprisingly effective/non-distracting Sean P. Diddy Combs)
to his death, their bleak, smalltown lives accelerate on their downward
spirals. This despair is matched only by that of Musgrove's widow, Leticia
(Berry), a de facto single mom to an overweight son whom she beats upon
for eating too much. When their downward spirals collide somewhere near
rock bottom, Hank and Leticia, surprisingly, shockingly, yet all too
realistically find hope. They find love.
This movie is a
masterpiece of despair, a case study of two aching souls conjoined by
loss. Everything around the central pair of Hank and Leticia is a testament
to a rural Georgia world slathered in self-loathing, racism, and hate.
Peter Boyle's trash-talking, oxygen-tank-breathing Buck is so palpably
real, I think we all know someone so horrendously backwards, time-warped,
and filled with hate. Buck has to be the worst, most dysfunctional father
on the face of the earth. The way that racism and self-hatred is diluted
through the generations is fascinating to watch, particularly through
the performance of the Aussie born Ledger as the grandson, whose quiet
drawl and general attitude of malaise and hopelessness might as well
be the postcard for this movie.
Marc Forster sure
knows how to capture loneliness, solitude, and heartaching loss on film,
too. This world he has created is visually arresting in its bleakness.
The director of two previous indie films I've never heard of, Forster
sure knows how to get a whole lot from very little. Eliciting riveting
performances from everyone involved, including drawing out the most
realistically desperate, erotic, and bittersweet lovemaking ever caught
on film also makes Forster a very talented director to watch for in
the future. The script, written by Milos Addica & Will Rokos, is
simply outstanding, deserving whatever Oscar-talk it receives.
But let's get down
to brass tax here: Billy Bob and Halle, Hank and Leticia. These are,
without a doubt, the loneliest two people in the world. Billy Bob is
the master of the mysterious, quiet type while Halle is doing her very
best to live the part of struggling black woman. For the most part,
she pulls it off, but is never quite convincing esthetically as dirt-dirt
poor. Halle is still too attractively distracting. With looks like hers,
she really should take lessons from Brad Pitt on glamming down. Yet
proving to be a game actress not afraid to make herself out to be a
funny drunk, a desperate mother, or an emotionally fragile, horny woman,
Berry acts her tail off.
I'm sure the bandwagon
is already full but this movie is one of the best released (late) last
year. An early entrant, "Monster's Ball" should have no problem
vying for the most depressing film of the century. The most interesting
thing about it all is how beautiful - no matter how hard it is to watch
- this depression is. That's the mark of great acting. That's the mark
of great direction. That's the mark of a great film.
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