Retro Review: Monster’s Ball

Touted as being one of the best films of 2001, “Monster’s Ball” had a lot to live up to. Why is this film so depressing and boring?

“Monster’s Ball” starts off following around a racist warden named Hank Grotowski (Billy-Bob Thornton) who lives with his long-suffering father, Buck (Peter Boyle), and his misunderstood son, Sonny (Heath Ledger).

It happens to be the day before the execution of convicted killer Lawrence Musgrove (Sean “Puffy” Combs) and Hank is in charge of how it is going to be carried out. Musgrove’s wife, Leticia, (Halle Berry) comes to prison with her son to see her husband for the last time.

After Musgrove is executed, the lives of Hank and Leticia are forever changed. Two more deaths and a long struggle follow which will bring these two into an inevitable confrontation of lust, desperation and turmoil.

“Monster’s Ball” is very slow as it sifts through the wreckage of these two characters. Their self-destruction and transformation takes eons.

Director Marc Forster’s previous film “Everything Put Together” studied characters in explicit detail. In Ball, Forster doesn’t shy away from trying to put us into these people’s lives and embrace what he accomplished in “Everything”.

We know these people or maybe we connect more with one than the other.

The film itself is just so depressing and tragic to watch that you may find yourself not wanting to get to know these people at all. Instead you twist and turn in your seat as every depressing thing we can imagine in our lives happens to these people.

Halle looks the way I felt watching this movie!

The saving grace of this film is the uninhibited performance of Halle Berry. I would have never guessed in a thousand years that she could be that good. Her character is depressed, bland, and engulfed in a world of hurt. We really feel what this now single mother is going through.

The connection I had with the mother made me want to finish watching the film. Berry’s uninhibited performance leads to some very racy and desperate love scenes with Thornton which felt so real that they were hard to watch. Berry’s performance is definitely Oscar worthy but it is too bad that it is in such a long and depressing film.

On the other hand, I couldn’t at all get into the mindset of Hank’s character. I just couldn’t understand this guy. It drove me insane that Hank hardly even reacts to all the tragedy and hate around him.

This film is so slow you would think that there would be some sort of comic relief or injection of humor but there is none. You need that sort of thing to help a film move and convey its message. I guess these filmmakers didn’t know that.

There seems to be a lot of films this year which focus on depressed and emotionally destroyed people. Are these films trying to connect with us and our realities or are they conceived so the actors have meatier roles? “Monster’s Ball” is definitely one of the most uncomfortable films of the year.

(2.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Monster’s Ball

  1. “Monster’s Ball” is presented by Director Marc Forster as a dark, dreary film-noir like drama involving the role of fate in bringing together two different but distraught people from different races.

    The film opens as preparations are underway for the execution of Lawrence Musgrave (Sean Combs). Two of the prison guards are Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son Sonny (Heath Ledger). Musgrave’s wife Leticia (Halle Berry) and his obese son Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) have come to see Musgrave to say their final goodbyes. Hank and Sonny live with the bigoted Buck who is Hank’s father and who was also a prison guard. We learn that Buck has apparently bullied Hank all his life and now Hank is doing likewise to Sonny.

    Following the execution, two tragic but unrelated events occur in the lives of Hank and Leticia. Hank, fighting off the predjudices taught him by his father, begins to fall for Leticia and eventually an inter-racial relationship ensues. But what if she finds out that Hank had a part in executing her husband?

    Berry deservedly won the 2001 Academy Award as best actress for her role as the tragic Leticia. She displays a wide range of emotions from pity to sadness to dispare to ecstacy to happiness. Thornton is equally good as the similarly tragic Hank who goes through much of the same emotional changes. Peter Boyle is also excellent as the bigoted Buck. Ledger, in an all too brief role, shines as the son who really doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. Calhoun evokes pity and sorrow as Leticia’s son and the old Puffmeister, Combs gives a good low key performance as the doomed convict.

    An excellent film but be forewarned that there are a couple of graphic sex scenes in the movie. Definitely not for the kiddies.

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