Review: Monster’s Ball (2001)

monster

Yeah, yeah, great movie, we all get that. But, I am a man, and Halle Berry is naked and having rough sex, what do you think the draw is for me? C’mon people, be realistic!

Written By: Milo Addica & Will Rokos
Directed By: Marc Forster

I can’t help but feel a sigh of relief upon watching Monster’s Ball. It isn’t a pretty movie to watch by any means, but it is a lesson on how to incorporate racial issues into your film without being heavy handed. Monster’s Ball doesn’t focus on race, but it handles the issues of racism and intolerance better in its limited quantity than the entire of Crash did. In that sense Monster’s Ball was like a refreshing glass of lemonade to wash away the acrid aftertaste of a meatloaf gone awry.

Monster’s Ball is driven by its performances, whether it is the leads or the supporting cast. Halle Berry showed that under the right circumstances and when inhabiting the right character she can act, and greatly at that. Billy Bob Thornton has always been a good actor and in Monster’s Ball he showed his ability to keep up with a dominant performance. Peter Boyle was shocking as the virulently racist father, this certainly wasn’t any Father Barone. Even P Diddy managed to deliver a strong performance in a small role. But for me the most shocking was Heath Ledger as Sonny. I was never a big fan of Ledger, I found him passable at best and downright awful most of the time, but he was cracking in Monster’s Ball. In his face you can see the loss and love that he feels towards his father at all times. He truly was a neglected child that was never given the chance to come into his own. Ledger portrays all of that in a very short amount of time on the screen and does so in heart breaking fashion.

Where Monster’s Ball most succeeds is in its ability to deftly take on the theme of need. Sex for Leticia and Hank isn’t about love, it is about a momentary release that they need. Leticia may be willing to forgive her discovery about Hank’s connection to her because she does care about him, but a major reason is also her need of him during her economic crisis. Sonny needed his fathers love and his father wouldn’t provide it. Leticia and Hank are extremely flawed characters that need each other to function. They found someone to help them deal with the pain and that is exactly what they need in their lives. Monster’s Ball underlays that with the racist tone, and it isn’t the usual “shucking of racism” message that most movies deliver. Hank doesn’t all of a sudden decide to become a better person and leave racism behind. Rather, the racism evaporates from his person over time because it doesn’t fit with his current needs. Monster’s Ball is very adult in its themes and in how it handles said themes.

The only place where I felt Monster’s Ball stumbled a bit was in the handling of the disposal of the father. That particular plot line came across too rushed for my liking. But, outside of that Monster’s Ball came together into a harshly beautiful film. Monster’s Ball isn’t a light movie, it’s not the type that you will sit down with on a breezy Saturday afternoon and enjoy with the family. But, it is a powerful movie with adult themes and messages that gets those messages across better than Hollywood pictures tend to.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

2 responses to “Review: Monster’s Ball (2001)

  1. “Monster’s Ball” is presented by Director Marc Forster as a dark, dreary film-noir like drama involving the role of fate in bringing together two different but distraught people from different races.

    The film opens as preparations are underway for the execution of Lawrence Musgrave (Sean Combs). Two of the prison guards are Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son Sonny (Heath Ledger). Musgrave’s wife Leticia (Halle Berry) and his obese son Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) have come to see Musgrave to say their final goodbyes. Hank and Sonny live with the bigoted Buck who is Hank’s father and who was also a prison guard. We learn that Buck has apparently bullied Hank all his life and now Hank is doing likewise to Sonny.

    Following the execution, two tragic but unrelated events occur in the lives of Hank and Leticia. Hank, fighting off the predjudices taught him by his father, begins to fall for Leticia and eventually an inter-racial relationship ensues. But what if she finds out that Hank had a part in executing her husband?

    Berry deservedly won the 2001 Academy Award as best actress for her role as the tragic Leticia. She displays a wide range of emotions from pity to sadness to dispare to ecstacy to happiness. Thornton is equally good as the similarly tragic Hank who goes through much of the same emotional changes. Peter Boyle is also excellent as the bigoted Buck. Ledger, in an all too brief role, shines as the son who really doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. Calhoun evokes pity and sorrow as Leticia’s son and the old Puffmeister, Combs gives a good low key performance as the doomed convict.

    An excellent film but be forewarned that there are a couple of graphic sex scenes in the movie. Definitely not for the kiddies.

  2. Yeah, this is definitely not a film I would recommend for any young kids. Mature teens, but not kids who don’t have a grasp on larger issues yet.

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