After 11 years, Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs) is out of appeals, condemned to the electric chair. His wife Leticia (Halle Berry) and his son Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) visit him one last time. Among the prison officers are father and son Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) and Sonny Grotowski (Heath Ledger), who help put Lawrence to death. But the two men are vastly different and tragedy soon tears them apart. Hank resigns from his job and fate thrusts him into Leticia’s life, while she remains ignorant of his previous role. When her son is involved in a car accident, she becomes even more needy and Hank is there to help her out. But can they form a bond in spite of their past?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With the title reference to a condemned man’s last night’s farewell party, and the film’s early focus on the detail of the execution, audiences are led up the garden path a bit, imagining that these details are somehow vital to the film. Expectations are left up in the air, though, as the film veers away from the prison to father and son prison officers and their dysfunctional home, where grandfather – an ex-prison warden himself – is slowly moulding away, bitter at his wife for copping out by suicide. Son Hank’s wife did the same, and we aren’t told why but we can guess. Both men made suicide seem a better option. But now, with some vague trigger we can‘t quite make out, Hank is having a change of heart, shedding his racist skin and obnoxious ways, as he is drawn to the gorgeous chocolate skinned widow Leticia. His and her redemption stories could well make a powerful stage drama if well directed and well cast, but as a film, it just ends up a bit dull and sad and confusing. There are too many elements that detract from the focus of the story, too many scenes that are underlined in red but turn out not to be relevant to the film’s main arc. But at least performances aren’t the problem and Halle Berry quickly picked up well deserved awards and accolades – although the cynic in me suggests that may have been a reaction to seeing her in full dramatic flight after her work in less ‘serious’ films such as Swordfish and X-Men. Shot with some flair and scored with moody, anguished colours, Monster’s Ball is a misjudged affair, but has some interest value in a strong cast and - to the impressionable - might suggest that something profound is being said.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's unusual to watch a film and be unsure of one's response. That's how I felt about Monster's Ball, a sombre and unusual film that keeps us on edge throughout, with its themes of hatred, discrimination and hopelessness. It is pretty tough going and at times frustrating. But then, the surprise for me, is that I couldn't get the characters out of my mind. They began to haunt me. Director Marc Forster has made less than obvious choices and superb lighting and cinematography impacts on our emotions. It's a moody film with a rather monotonous, intense soundtrack, whose two parallel stories echoes each other. As the stories intersect, a watershed begins and it is under these circumstances that the flawed characters change and are offered a second chance. It's a disturbing journey and at its heart are powerful performances from both Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry. This was a role Berry seriously coveted, and no wonder – it's a wonderful role for an actress, showing range and depth of emotion. Thornton's Hank is perhaps the more memorable character: his child-like craving for chocolate ice-cream counters the heartless cruel streak with which he treats his vulnerable son and invalid father. In many ways the full emotional impact is not truly felt until the film is concluded. There are many things to mull over such as the complex issue of hatred between parent and son. Scenes of Leticia beating her overweight son for his indulgence in chocolate as comfort, and Hank abusing his son are as hard to watch as the execution of the condemned man. The title is only fleetingly explained: it is as understated as is the journey from captivity to freedom.
Email this article
HALLE BERRY interview by Jenny Cooney Carrillo
MONSTER'S BALL (MA)
CAST: Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger, Peter Boyle, Sean Combs, Mos Deaf, Coronji Calhoun
PRODUCER: Lee Daniels
DIRECTOR: Marc Fortser
SCRIPT: Will Rokos, Milo Addica
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roberto Schaeffer
EDITOR: Matt Chesse
MUSIC: no credit listed
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Monroe Kelly
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts Distribution
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 28, 2002