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Monster's Ball

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Monster's Ball

Starring: Billy Bob Thorton, Halle Berry
Director: Marc Forster
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: December 2001
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Heath Ledger, Peter Boyle, Sean Puffy Combs, Mos Def

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Marc Forster's MONSTER'S BALL is a romantic version of THE GREEN MILE made with a SLING BLADE feel. Even if the last half gets bogged down in the cinematic equivalent of quicksand, the first half is absolutely exquisite and captivating. If the film were more consistent, it could have been best-of-the-year-list material.

In a pair of performances worthy of Oscar consideration, Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank Grotowski, a prison guard leader, and Halle Berry plays Leticia Musgrove, the wife of the man about to be executed during Hank's watch. Sean 'Puffy' Combs turns in a nice piece of acting as Lawrence, the man about to die. Like THE GREEN MILE, MONSTER'S BALL covers the minutia of an electrocution, but unlike the former film, the execution this time happens early in the picture. The movie is about the unlikely romance between Hank and Leticia afterwards. At first neither knows of their strange connection since they meet for the first time in a chance encounter after Lawrence is dead. The eventual scenes in which each of them discovers the other's background prove to be pivotal and powerful.

What makes Hank and Leticia's romance especially improbable is that Hank's father (Peter Boyle) is a retired prison guard who is a very vocal racist. It's easy to write off Hank as a racist as well, but it's not nearly that simple or clear. By the third generation of Grotowskis, all traces of racism appear to have been purged from the gene pool, as Hank's son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), is a prison guard with black friends. Normally an ultra polite, reserved man, Hank has a shockingly violent and explosive relationship with his son. One suspects that Hank used to be treated that way by his father.

The director uses silence and solitude to give scenes spellbinding tension. The melancholy music and the evocative cinematography further enhance the mood.

Some of the small parts of Milo Addica and Will Rokos's script are especially intriguing. The Grotowskis all love sex, but want it fast and fee-based. Hank and his son even use a common hooker. Hank doesn't have many needs, but one is his daily dose from the diner of chocolate ice cream -- the spoon for it absolutely must be plastic -- and black coffee.

As we wait for what seems like forever before Leticia finds out about Hank, the movie slowly grinds to a halt like a record player at the start of a blackout. Still, it's easy to forgive the interminable slowness of the last part given the strength of the first.

MONSTER'S BALL runs 1:41. It is rated R for "strong sexual content, language and violence" and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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