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**** TRAGEDY, COMPASSION & HUMANITY ****
on 4 September 2003
Monster's Ball is a prison drama/romance with a difference. It's about tragedy, compassion, forgiveness, humanity and the need for love but this is no traditional Sunday afternoon made for television weepie. Brilliantly acted by Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry, Monster's Ball is an intelligent but often bleak drama, subtly directed and utterly compelling.
The title, Monster's Ball is explained as being a condemned man's last supper before being executed. The condemned man in this case being Lawrence Musgrove (Sean 'Puff Daddy'/'P Diddy' Combs) an African-American who has been awaiting execution in a Georgia penitentiary for 11 years. Musgrove is married to a long suffering emotionally crushed waittress named Leticia (Halle Berry). Together they share an obese 13 year old son Tyrell who barely knows his father and seeks solace in junk food and candy bars.
Supervising officer on Musgrove's execution squad is one Hank Grotowski (Thornton), a widower and one of three generations of career prison officers. Hank's only child Sonny (Heath Ledger), a sensitive but unloved young man, is also reluctantly on the execution squad. Together they both live with Hank's retired father Buck, a bitter, nasty and brutal rascist physically disabled by the combination of chronic arthritis and emphysema. The wives of both Buck and Hank have committed suicide and all 3 generations of the Grotowski family are trapped in unhappy lives devoid of feeling, emotionally numbed and it is against this backdrop that enormously tragic circumstances conspire to bring Hank and Leticia together in this fragile love story.
As previously mentioned both Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry give stunning performances and contrary to popular opinion Berry's Academy Award was more than justified. Rather than being an act of political correctness it is actually one of the very few occasions where the Academy have actually got things right. Demonstrating a superb range of acting and range of emotions beyond most mere mortals Berry gives a touching and memorable performance as a woman crushed by an unfortunate catalogue of misfortune. Likewise, Thornton (one of American cinemas greatest talents) is captivating as an unloving bigot, bullied by his father and bully to his son, who begins a journey to back to life and emotional and spiritual salvation.
This is a very adult, unsentimental and intelligent drama that doesn't pull its punches. It's not what could be described as entertainment as the first hour of the movie particularly presents an increasingly bleak story of grief, loss and tragedy. However, as an examination of the human condition and our intrinsic need for love this is very powerful and thought provoking stuff, which against all odds ends on a positive note of hope. Uncompromisingly well written and directed, Monster's Ball also features great supporting performances (against type) by the likes of Heath Ledger and a surprisingly sombre Sean Combs. Recommended; 4 stars ****.