Monster's Ball (2001)
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Review Date: December 22, 2001
Director: Marc Forster
Writer: Milo Addica, Will Rokos
Producers: Lee Daniels
Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove
Billy Bob Thornton as Hank Grotowski
Peter Boyle as Buck Grotowski
A racist corrections officer finds himself falling for a black woman, who just happens to be the widow of a black man over whom he just supervised an execution.
A solid drama which deals with the effect of familial racist attitudes and one's grieving process after the passing of a loved one, this film features a career-topping performance by Halle Berry (who knew that she could act this well?), alongside another strong showing by Billy Bob Thornton, and various secondary characters. Somber, slow-moving and ultimately somewhat simplistic in plot, this film kept me engaged throughout because of its ability to develop its characters into full-blown dimension. With very little dialogue and "action" scenes per se, this movie felt more like a play in certain areas, with much reliance on the characters' movements, looks and body language. Berry was especially effective in displaying her character's full arc from a frantic, chain-smoking, boozing mom to a melancholic, vulnerable woman, searching for something to make her feel good. I wasn't as convinced by Thornton's character arc, which has nothing to do with his ability as an actor, but I felt as though they didn't really delve into the specifics of his change in mindset as much as they could have, by the end of the film. I mean, here's a guy who basically moves from being a full-blown racist to dating a black woman, so I really needed to see, or feel, what was going on in his head. I didn't feel his progression as much, but that's not to say that I didn't buy it. Thankfully, the role was played by a great actor, who despite the lack of external elements, still convinced me of his ability to change, as well as his genuineness in doing so.

The film also lauds a few smaller performances, all of which added greater layers to the movie, including Sean Combs (that's Puffy, yo!) as the man in the chair, Peter Boyle, convincing as the redneck grandpa and Heath Ledger, who chooses a great little part for his burgeoning career, and comes through in the few scenes that he shares. The film isn't overly symbolic with its message, which has much to do with family and its ability to shape the next generation, as physical traits are passed on to the kids, brains are passed on to the kids and sadly, prejudices as well. In one scenario, a son picks up his father's talent of drawing (positive), while another scenario displays a son with his father's evil racist attitude in tow (negative). Nobody is born hating someone else...we're all taught to love and hate. Environmental factors play a big part in someone's ability to live in harmony with the rest of society, but at some point in time, no matter how you've been brought up, it's up to each individual, and their intellectual and emotional baggage, to decide how they want to interact with others. This film shows us that you needn't automatically be what your mother and father taught or wanted you to be, and rightfully demonstrates the pathetic, ignorant nature of racism, once again. But the film isn't just about that either, it also focuses on the grieving process, and how two individuals who barely know each other, can not only help, but in some cases, save each other from their respective degeneration. It's definitely not a "fun" movie, it certainly wouldn't be complemented by a big bag of popcorn and it does feature a number of deaths, but it definitely resonates to a core deeper than your typical film, and if you're looking for a movie that will provide for some powerful emotions, check this one out.

And yes, once again, let me stress the surprisingly pointed performance by Halle Berry. She should definitely get nominated for this role, and is one of the main reasons why this movie is as credible as it is. And yeah, she gets buck naked in this movie, but as much as she's hot to trot in real life, I gotta tell ya, it's a raw, emotional scene with BB, and it's probably not one for the Playboy channel. Overall, this movie features some great directing, with material which might've been turned into a "TV Movie of the Week" by someone else, awesome performances, a consistently important message and a heartfelt relationship, which springs a little bit of light over most of the film's overall darker mood.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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