US Release Date: 12-26-2001
Directed by: Marc Forster
- Billy Bob Thornton, as
- Hank Grotowski
- Halle Berry, as
- Leticia Musgrove
- Peter Boyle, as
- Buck Grotowski
- Heath Ledger, as
- Sonny Grotowski
- Sean Combs, as
- Lawrence Musgrove
- Taylor Simpson, as
- Gabrielle Witcher, as
- Amber Rules as
Halle Berry in Monster's Ball.
Finally a movie that deals with the subject of race relations in an intelligent, unsentimental and thought provoking manner, with a winning script and high caliber performances all around. Easily one of the most powerful films I have seen in quite some time.
Billy Bob Thornton plays a racist corrections officer in a southern prison who re-evaluates his life after a series of highly dramatic events unfold. Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger and Sean (P Diddy) Combs all give spot on renderings of the various people in his life.
Still it is Thornton who steals the show with his finely nuanced understanding of the 'Good Old Boy' mentality. His character is never one-dimensional or unsympathetic even when behaving atrociously. He conveys so much pain in his southern everyman struggling to come to terms with his hatred and hardness that it is impossible not to like him.
The much talked about sex scene between him and Halle Berry is not only incredibly erotic in its violent urgency but is also so necessarily cathartic for both of these emotionally wounded people that it feels completely real. For that scene alone they both deserve Oscars.
A truly great film that should be seen by everyone.
Heath Ledger in Monster's Ball.
Sex is so often thrown into a movie for nothing more than titillation sake. A nude movie star may sell a few extra tickets. Rarely does it actually add to the plot. Remember those old movies where Clark Gable would kiss some girl and the door would close. You knew what they were about to do and not seeing all the sexual details did not hinder your enjoyment of the film.
In The Monster's Ball, sex is a metaphor for life. It is a statement of emotion and a sense of who one is. It is a cry for help and a feeling of connection.
Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton play opposites who fall in love. They are connected by the fact that Thornton's corrections officer has recently carried out the death sentence of Berry's ex husband. Berry is unaware of this fact.
Both of these people go through incredible family tragedies and find solace in each other. Berry loses her abused, overweight son in a car accident. Thornton looses his son to suicide that can be partly attributed to him.
His son, played by Heath Ledger, has sex with a prostitute early on in the movie. She drops her clothes turns her back and he does her from behind in a matter of seconds. He listlessly asks her, as she dresses, if she would like dinner or just talk. She ignores him and walks out. He is sadly alone. He does not connect to his father and this brief contact with this whore is the best relationship he has.
After his son's suicide, Thornton seeks comfort with the same prostitute. He cannot finish the exact same act once she asks about his son. His character is numb.
The often talked about sex scene between the two leads is incredible in that it is fairly graphic as well as plot developing. Two people who have nothing left in life fuck each other in a desperate attempt to affirm their very existence. Or as Berry's character pleads "Make me feel real good." To simply have implied that they had had sex would not have been at all effective here. The audience needed to see the act to experience these two peoples need to still feel alive and valid.
That is the turning point in these peoples lives. Thornton's character eases back on the racist attitude as he puts his bigoted father in a home. Berry's waitress appears cleaner and more put together. The final scene where they make love is poignant as well. Thornton goes down on Berry to deliver her an orgasm as well as a statement of love. He will do anything to make her happy. Including keeping the secret of their connection through her husband.
The final scene on the steps is brilliant. It is right after the oral sex scene. She has just discovered that Thornton knew her ex.. They sit on the steps eating ice cream. Just when she is about to bring up the subject she decides not to. Why should she? They have both finally found happiness. These two flawed people who are anything but perfect have found in each other happiness.
A remarkably honest piece of film making.
Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball.
Monster's Ball was another movie that I was silly enough to miss when it was first released. There are just so many movies to see and so little time to actually watch them that some just slip by me. Fortunately, at long last I found time to see it. Far from being over-hyped, as I'd feared it might be, Monster's Ball turned out to be one of the most intelligent, well-acted films that I've seen in a very long time. A film that stays true to its tone from opening to closing credits.
This is a multi-faceted movie. Patrick focused on the racism, Eric focused on the sex, and both of those themes play a big part of this movie, but not nearly as big as the theme of how fathers affect their sons. It is the key to all of the relationships in this movie.
Patrick says that Billy-Bob's character is a racist, but I would refute that. Clearly he has been raised in a racist household and from the very beginning of the movie he does sometimes behave in a racist manner, but it's obvious that his heart isn't in it. He chases the two boys off of his property because of his father. He swears at one of his black co-workers in a moment of extreme anger, but still I would resist the notion that he is a racist. His attitude is so clearly a reflection of how he was raised by his bigoted father (Peter Boyle), and not his true feelings, which he only begins to reveal after the death of his son.
Now whether or not acting in a racist manner is enough to make you a racist is a philosophical debate beyond the scope of this review, but I would say that were Hank (Billy-Bob Thornton) truly a racist, he would never have stopped to help Leticia (Halle Berry) that night in the rain and he never would have cared how much dignity Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs) had during his march to the electric chair. His behavior is an extension of his father's attitude.
Sonny Grotowski (Heath Ledger), who's very name derives from son, is a by-product of both his father and his grandfather. With this heritage it would take a stronger character than his to survive. His final act is to stand up to his father, something Hank never had the strength to do to his own father.
Ty is another son doomed by his father. He inherited his father's artistic talent as well as his doom. If that passing car hadn't killed him, it would have taken something extraordinary for him to make something of his life.
Not that I think this movie is saying that all our sins can be attributed to our upbringing, but I think rather that it is saying that we are who we are because of our upbringing and that it takes an enormous amount of will and sometimes something dramatic for us to change and grow past our upbringing.
Photos © Copyright Lions Gate Films (2001)