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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 Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4

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 miserable family.

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 on.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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