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Monster's Ball Review

By Joe Lozito

"Ball" and the Family


Director Marc Forster's incisive and difficult film "Monster's Ball" features not only some of the best performances of the year (from Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry and Peter Boyle) but also one of the best scripts. Whenever the writers Milo Addica and Will Rokos steer the story toward a cliché, they take an unexpected and completely realistic turn.

The script deals with a three generations of corrections officers (Mr. Boyle, Mr. Thornton, and Heath Ledger) living under one roof and how the execution of a prisoner (Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, showing surprising intensity) turns their world upside-down. During the course of the film, Mr. Thornton's Hank Grotowski forms a subtle, uneasy bond with the wife of the man he just executed (Ms. Berry). Their relationship and that of all the film's characters is handled with a delicacy and paucity of dialogue that gives the film an almost hypnotic power. Without any of the standard musical flourishes or camera trickery we've come to expect from even the finest Hollywood character studies ("A Beautiful Mind" comes to mind), Mr. Forster quietly lets his camera follow these characters, never cowering from a confrontation. Whether in the diner, hospital or bedroom, the film retains an unflinching and sometimes uncomfortable eye for realism which makes the film exciting and sometimes difficult to watch.

The only criticism I have of this film (and this may not be entirely fair) has to do with Halle Berry's appearance. There was some controversy surrounding the casting of the slim beauty in the role of the poor downtrodden Leticia Musgrove, but Ms. Berry's looks should not detract from her thorough, thoughtful performance. However, for some unknown reason the wardrobe people dress her in skimpy tanktops and trendy denim skirts throughout the film. Honestly, this was a distraction, not simply because Ms. Berry's physique reeks of daily ab-workouts, but because I would expect a single mother on the verge of eviction to be slightly less at the height of fashion. If this is my one problem with the film (and it is) then that says a lot. But I'm nostalgic for a time (the 60s and 70s) when characters looked like regular people, not movie stars. Look at films like "Dog Day Afternoon", "The French Connection" and even a blockbuster like "Jaws" - all the extras and stars alike look like average citizens. It makes the viewers identify with the film's characters so much more easily.

That being said, I'm not going to hold the wardrobe against "Monster's Ball". The film should be judged on the merits of the story, the direction and the acting. All around, outstanding work.

What did you think?

Movie title Monster's Ball
Release year 2001
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Director Marc Forster's unique, unflinching portrait of repression and resentment in circa 1990 southern America features two of the most exciting performances of the year from Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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