Sometimes films succeed in telling stories by using special effects, appropriate soundtrack tunes and special camera angles. Other films use good writing and strong acting.
Monster’s Ball and In The Bedroom are two rare films that both tell powerful human stories, with family issues involving love and death. And both succeed despite using minimal background music and zero digital effects.
They are about relationships and what happens to two people when tragedy occurs. But we wouldn’t get even that if it were not for the four main performances.
In Monster’s Ball, Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank – a racist prison guard – and Halle Berry plays Leticia – a widow whose husband was executed by Hank. When unexpected tragedies affect their lives more than initially realized, they turn to each other in a desperate act of unabashed necessity.
While Monster’s Ball follows a relationship that comes together, In The Bedroom chronicles one that falls apart.
Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek play husband and wife Matt and Ruth Fowler, a couple who are thrown into a situation that any parent would dread when another couple’s domestic issues hit too close to home.
The accomplishment of these four actors is a rare feat in a day and age of cranking films out with a cookie cutter for the sake of making a buck. Neither film is flashy or even easy to watch at times. Both deal with suffering and entail shockingly graphic scenes.
Some scenes show characters witnessing murders, a suicide and a hit-and-run accident.
There are scenes when no lines are spoken, but rather where the emotion on a face tells the story.
To say which scenes come from which film would give away the stories that otherwise need to unfold for the audience to receive the full effect along with the characters.
In one of the powerful scenes of these two films, a man walks down a hallway after learning one of his loved ones was just killed. We know he has to tell someone else who also loved the deceased. While we don’t see the eventual conversation disclosing the bad news, we see how tough it is through the simple, yet ultra-effective use of body language.
Another scene is one of discovery that has the ability to impact everything in the character’s life. We see how she handles it when she is alone and later, how she deals with it in the presence of the other character. The character we are following doesn’t speak a word. It is through the actress’ eyes and face that we see her soul die and be born again. The screenplay called for her to sit and look up at the stars. It is a testament that “sometimes the best words are the ones not spoken at all.” We see everything we need to see and yet know nothing of what will happen. But in those moments, we aren’t thinking about anything else.
It is moments like this that can make a film. It is a series of them that make a remarkable film.
In one of the films, where two brutal murders take place, two of the more powerful moments come when one character breaks a plate and later slaps another character. It is through her inner turmoil that we get soaked into the emotion going into the decisions, or motivations, to throw a plate on the floor or slap someone’s face. Both come out of nowhere, and yet we see it coming all along. In a later confrontation scene, we question why the character is saying something but never question the actor’s conviction to her role.
Some of the acting is so effortless, you lose sight of the fact you are watching scripted lines being performed on a movie screen. There is a phrase used in acting classes called “on the page.” It refers to the awareness of the audience that the actor is simply reading lines as opposed to reacting to another character. That is not the case in these two films.
An actor’s job is not to make watching a film, or a play, easy. An actor’s job is to draw the audience in and convey a human emotion that will entice a reaction. When an actor is successful, he or she has achieved art.
Monster’s Ball and In The Bedroom are artistic expressions in human tragedy, and the actors in the films make their audiences react like few films recently have done.
- Monster’s Ball is Rated R
- In The Bedroom is Rated R