2001 - R - 111 Mins.
|Director: Marc Forster
|Producer: Lee Daniels, Eric Kopeloff, Tom Ortenberg
|Written By: Milo Addica, Will Rokos
|Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger, Peter Boyle, P. Diddy
|Review by: David Trier
No, this isn't a film about Frankenstein's testes. Every once in a while, a film comes out that's full of things I like and things that Hollywood hates. And then every once in a while within that once in a while, Hollywood recognizes that a lot of people love what Hollywood hates (and they buy tickets too). Monster's Ball proves yet again that good cinema is more about being miserable than it is about being happy.
The film begins with prison guards Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son Sonny (Heath Ledger) solemnly carrying out the death sentence of Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs). Hank is sort of a quiet, simple southern racist, not at all like his evil old man, Buck (Peter Boyle). But Hank has more problems with his pacifist son, who ultimately kills himself. Well, that does suck. Even for racist ugly folk. Then one day, Hank gives a ride to a stranded Leticia (Halle Berry), whose morbidly obese son (Coronji Calhoun) has just been killed in a hit-and-run. Misery loves company, and Hank and Leticia find themselves in love. Oh, did I mention Leticia is the widow of the man Hank put to death?
There was a great deal of controversy over the Oscars this year, two black people winning and all. But, talented as the other nominees were, Halle Berry did the best job. Her performance is authentic and moving, despite the absurdity of the story. This film proves her to be a far stronger actress than we might've guessed, our eyes being unfairly biased by how UNBELIEVABLY HOT she is. Halle Berry may be a little full of herself when she takes credit for overcoming 74 years of Oscar injustice towards the black community, but a job well done is a job well done. Although it's hard to miss the irony that her character's son gets killed in a hit-and-run incident (a driving style for which Berry herself has been noted). Now, some people complained that she did the black community a disservice by shooting a film in which she gets nailed by a white guy. Let me just say that Billy Bob should be allowed to make movies in which he has sex with all kinds of women. If a guy that gaukish (no that's not a word as far as I know) can establish a meaningful relationship with Angelina Jolie, then he is not a representative of white men, but ALL men. Just a thought.
Thornton, playing a slightly more centered character than in Sling Blade, delivers his classic understated acting lesson in simplicity. Peter Boyle, whom I can no longer look at on Everybody Loves Raymond the same way, reminds us why he had a strong film career before he became a sitcom dad. And even though his role is small, Heath Ledger delivers an acceptable apology for A Knight's Tale. The film is a little slow, but evenly paced and far from boring. Director Marc Forster has a patient eye and doesn't waste time with a lot of pretentious music video styles that seem so popular these days. That's not to say he doesn't throw in a few jaw-dropping moments for shock value. And special props to whomever choreographed one of the most delightfully gratuitous sex scenes I have ever seen. But the greatest feat of all is that Monster's Ball manages to get you to empathize with characters with qualities we resent. Hank starts out as a racist and treats his son with nothing but contempt while Leticia drowns her sorrows in alcohol and hits her kid when she can't control him. But somehow, we want these two to fall in love, stay in love and find peace.
The story is technically little more than a series of extremely unlikely coincidences you can only get away with in film. But the truthfullness of the performances holds it together. And above all, the ending has utmost integrity as it doesn't cram a quick fix down your throat. Where the circumstances may be a little peculiar, the characters' actions end up being believable. Now that's good movie making