Film of the Day: Monster´s Ball (2001)

With his performances in the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There and now Monster’s Ball, Billy Bob Thornton has shown he’s able to command the screen with seemingly minimal effort. His ability to eliminate the flashy and unnecessary, stripping characters down to their bare essentials while retaining their essence, is a gift few actors possess and one exemplified by his masterful portrayal of the conflicted and pained Hank Grotowski. With just a look he is able to relay his character’s vulnerability aligned to an inner strength, a necessity when playing the taciturn Grotowski. Monster’s Ball is a quiet, contemplative film, filled with space and unspoken feelings that lures you in with its message of hope, a hope that overcomes unfathomable loss.

Marc Foster, the young Swiss director, shows patient respect for the script by Milo Addica and Will Rockos that captures perfectly the empty and unhurried life of the South. Although set in modern day Georgia, Monster’s Ball is a timeless depiction of a parochial existence where change is discouraged and racial prejudice still abounds.

Three generations of Grotowski men all share the same house, the same career, and in the one whore town where they live, Hank and his son Sonny (a mature and charged Heath Ledger) even share the same hooker. It’s their values that divide them. Hank’s father, the bigoted and racist Buck, (an excellent Peter Boyle) had been the unchallenged patriarch until infirmity now threatens his position. Hank still echoes his father’s extreme views, but with less conviction while Sonny incurs the wrath of his elders by adhering little to their credos. Tensions between Hank and Sonny erupt violently at their work as correctional officers, when Hank, who is in charge of carrying out the execution of the cop killing Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), attacks Sonny for what he considers to be an exhibition of weakness. For the sensitive Sonny, it’s the final straw and in one shocking and brutal moment, Hank’s life is changed forever.

When Hank meets a recently widowed black waitress Leticia (Halle Berry), he has becomes liberated from the burden of respect he once held for his father and his father’s values and he and the single mother become passionate lovers, unified by grief when further tragedy befalls Leticia. Throughout, Monster’s Ball is sustained by an overarching sense of expectation due to the fact that Leticia, whose surname is Musgrove, is unaware of Hank’s involvement in her husband’s execution. When the realisation finally comes, she exhibits a lingering and beguiling look that reveals everything and nothing about her state of mind.

Halle Berry’s naked (in every sense of the word) performance is the equal of Thornton’s although it’s hard to accept someone so beautiful would exist in such a drab world. With only minor implausibilities to hold against it, Monster’s Ball is a moving and evocative drama that deserves an audience and a lot of recognition for its two stars.

From TalkTalk Review


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