Set in a world of racism, rage and death, "Monster's Ball" is a story
about two extremely lonely people in great pain who find comfort in each
other's arms. Is what happens between them really love? Your guess is as
good as mine. At the very least, their liaisons provide some respite
from the hurt.
Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) is a corrections officer whose home
life makes prison look positively festive by comparison. His father
(Peter Boyle) is a vile racist who treats Hank with contempt. His son
(Heath Ledger), who also works at the prison, is an anguished soul who
wants nothing more than to get away from his depressing job and
The story opens with Hank supervising the execution of death-row inmate
Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs). The world knows Musgrove as a cop killer
and his wife Leticia (Halle Berry) despises him, but his young son
Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) remains devoted to his father.
Shortly after the execution, more heartbreak comes to both Hank and
Leticia. I won't reveal the details - suffice to say that their
respective worlds grow even darker than before. Coincidence (this is a
film that uses big coincidences without apology) brings the two together
and civility soon turns into something more.
Neither Hank nor Leticia will ever be nominated for sainthood. While
nowhere near as bad as his father, Hank also is a racist and, early in
the film, we see Leticia verbally and physically abusing her son. Still,
they are human beings who need not to be alone.
The film has two sex scenes with considerable nudity, but this is not
the stuff of cheap thrills. The first encounter is especially hard to
watch, with Leticia crying, "Make me feel good!" as the two grasp, grope
and claw like animals. Only when they get together the second time do we
see anything resembling actual tenderness.
"Monster's Ball" offers three stunning performances. Halle Berry shows
remarkable depth - beyond Leticia's surface emotions, you can also see
the woman further inside, the one who wants to do better, be better, but
can't quite get control. Billy Bob Thornton is just as skillful. In his
hands, Hank trudges forward while his soul droops over his bones like a
Dali watch. And then there's Peter Boyle - the slug-like embodiment of
pure evil. Boyle first made his name playing a bigot in the film "Joe,"
but what he comes up with here is light years uglier.
So why should you invest your time and money in so much hate and
ugliness? Because the acting is truly amazing and because the film
serves as a reminder that, no matter what, people will find a way to go
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott