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Halle Berry's shining moment
FlickJunkie-227 July 2002
Independent filmmaking is alive and well and evident in Monster's Ball. This film had a minuscule $4 million budget, a terrific script and a director not afraid to take some risks. Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry practically donated their time they were paid so little. The result is a powerful and disturbing film that walked off with a boatload of awards, not the least of which was a best actress Oscar for Berry.

Director Marc Forster conjures a forceful presentation with stark sets, next to nothing in the way of props and other set decoration, and a non existent soundtrack. Forster does it with innovative use of the camera, sharp editing and most importantly excellent actor direction. Forster could have done better at character development and the ending is nebulous and unsatisfying, but these shortcomings can be partially forgiven for the films many assets.

This is an actors' showcase, with outstanding performances all around. Heath Ledger makes a short but intense appearance as the son that Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) despises. Ledger pumps the character full of repressed anger and disappointment, simultaneously resenting him and seeking his father's approval. Peter Boyle is despicable as Hank's bigoted and self centered father. Billy Bob Thornton delivers his best performance since `Sling Blade' with a complex character torn between his prejudices and his attraction to Leticia (Halle Berry).

Of course the big story here is Halle Berry. Berry shows once again that she is not just another pretty face. I first took serious notice of her after seeing her performance in `Introducing Dorothy Dandridge', a little seen TV movie in which she won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy. After that marvelous dramatic performance, I was surprised that she couldn't land roles any better than `Swordfish' and `X-Men', which tapped nothing more substantial than her looks.

In this film, Berry is sexy and alluring, but these are only incidental attributes. She displays a full range of emotions from vibrant elation and unbridled passion, to utter despondency. She practically rips her heart out and throws it at the camera. She can convey volumes with a single look, or come completely unglued with equal impact. Her Oscar for this performance was richly deserved and had nothing to do with her race as so many have rationalized. She just flat out won it going away. As good as Nicole Kidman was in `Moulin Rouge', it wasn't even close.

This is an excellent film that is worth seeing for the acting alone. I rated it a 9/10. It is a compelling and deeply disturbing drama that serious film lovers will surely enjoy.
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Far More Than Just That Sex Scene
ccthemovieman-127 October 2006
This movie was not a big favorite with audiences and I figured I would be among the majority on this one......but I wasn't - I like this film. In fact, I liked it even better on the second viewing.

I found it to be one of those rare movies that deals with racism that doesn't come on too heavy-handed with all the political correctness nonsense. It handled the problem intelligently, I thought.

The cinematographer, Robert Schaefer, did a terrific job with this, too, and that is another reason I have come to really enjoy this film. The visuals - and the audio - are outstanding.

None of the characters are particularly likable but I thought Billy Bob Thornton's "Hank Grotowski" was so interesting a character that I concentrated more on that than whether I liked him or not. However, I wound up liking him, anyway, and boy, did his character change in this film. There is a steamy sex scene in here with Billy Bob and Halle Barry that was quite the talk when the film was released. I didn't think it was all that it was made out to be. I've seen steamier moments such as Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger going at it in the non-rated version of "The Getaway."

Overall, this a rough film in spots but I think it is a solid, underrated drama that offers far more than the "celebrated" sex scene. This is a well-made movie.
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A harrowing, daring film. One of the year's best. **** (out of four)
Movie-123 February 2002
MONSTER'S BALL / (2001) **** (out of four)

When I finish reading a great book, I don't close it right away. Treasuring the story's emotional grasp, I just sit there and hold it for a minute, enthralled, sensing the character's lives are continuing even as I put the book away.

"Monster's Ball" is a similar experience. The film contains so much truth, vigor, and so many harrowing moments, I just stared at the screen through the ending credits. Even after a second viewing the conviction did not diminish. It really says something about a movie when you know what happens and you're equally as mesmerized every time you watch it.

Most movies about depravity are really about entertainment, but director Marc Forster avoids preachy speeches, big sappy moments, and melodramatic music. Even during the movie's most important scenes, Forster does not overplay the material. He knows that careful, quiet dialogue, and long, silent pauses speak louder than lengthy emotional summaries.

Consider a scene where a character checks his father into an old folk's home. It does not feature long good-byes or conclusive hugs. Instead, it projects unflinching, raw emotion. "You must love him very much," reassures an attendant to the character who replies, "No I don't, but he is my father…"

The character, Hank, is played by Billy Bob Thornton, who makes his Academy Award-winning performance in "Sling Blade" look like SNL material. Hank, bitter and racist, lives in a Southern country house with his son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), and father (Peter Boyle).

Hank and Sonny work as prison guards on death row. Sonny desperately wants out of the family business, especially after an unpleasant emotional reaction to the latest execution. When Hank explodes at him for his mistake, Sonny teaches his father a lesson he will never forget.

The film eventually becomes a story about the relationship between Hank and the widow of the man he has just executed. She's played by Halle Barry, who was paid an extra one-million dollars for doing an extended sex scene completely nude. This is a gradual, yet sudden relationship that is not based on physical attraction or love, but emotional need and depravity.

Forster makes interesting editing choices. During certain scenes, he cuts back and forth between separate occurrences while the central action fills the soundtrack. Especially unique is how he handles a sex scene. While two characters engage in some of the most graphic stimulated sex of last year, Forster flashes images of a caged bird before us. A metaphor of shattered innocence or repressed emotion, perhaps?

Actually, Forster fills "Monster's Ball" with metaphors, including the title itself. He even includes a moving soundtrack of timid rhythms and sudden beats, symbolizing the characters complex states of mind. Forster's haunting, daring feature reminds us why we all love the movies.
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Excellent job of peeling away the layers of racism
Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) is the middle generation of three generations of prison guards. His father Buck (Peter Boyle) is long retired and a near-invalid, using a walker and leaning on an iron lung. His son Sonny (Heath Ledger) is a novice guard. Hank and Sonny work together on Death Row and are among the guards responsible for the executions (Hank's in charge).

The first thing that strikes one about this particular group of men is the level of racism that's apparent in each one. Buck's the worst - he screams at young black kids who happen to wander onto "his" property (all three Grotowskis live together) and is liable to spout off some hateful rhetoric at any time. Hank's not a lot better, but his feelings seem tempered in contrast to Buck; he seems more weary than angry. And Sonny is actually friends with that same neighboring black family whose kids come over every now and then.

Thus the line of racism is significantly watered down as the generations progress. This is not to suggest that Sonny is an angel, or that Buck is the absolute devil. Sonny and Hank share the same hooker (though not at the same time); all three men drink, smoke, and cuss like sailors. In short, they're simply not nice folk.

While Hank and Sonny are transporting a prisoner to the electric chair, Sonny takes ill and can't continue. Because of this, the prisoner (who had bonded a little with the compassionate Sonny earlier) suffers a little during his execution. Enraged, Hank attacks his son in the locker room after the execution, and the other guards have to separate them.

That's one relationship being examined - that of Hank and Sonny. The other is the more important one, however. The widow of the executed prisoner, Leticia Musgrove (Halle Berry), is trying to make ends meet as a waitress. But her car constantly dies on her, and after being late to work repeatedly, she's fired - shortly after her husband is executed. She has one overeating kid to feed, too. She does get another job as a waitress, but has to ditch the car when it dies a final time. Walking home in the rain, her son (who has to come with her; can't leave him home to binge) his hit by a car. Hank happens to be passing by, and with some reluctance (remember, he is racist, if not as bad as his father), he stops to help.

There's a wonderful dichotomy between the relationship between Leticia and her son and that between Hank and his son. Milo Addica and Will Rokos, who wrote the screenplay, weave a very effective tale that manages to keep all of the characters interesting and relevant. What makes Hank act the way he does? What are Leticia's motivations? And it would be very easy for the actors to portray the characters as nothing more than stereotypes - Hank the nasty, racist white male, and Leticia the vulnerable, victimized African American woman. But both Thornton and Berry rise above their characters' limitations - Hank's not the devil he might think he is, and Leticia isn't the angel that a lesser actress might make her out to be.

It's also worth mentioning that each of the two leads has something shocking and powerful happen to them near the beginning of the film, before they really meet. These two events have a huge impact on the characters - you might call the events "life-altering". The events allow us to see actual change in the character. Not sudden change, which can be jarring and unrealistic, but gradual, authentic, eminently believable change.

The performances by the leads are nothing short of sensational. Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress for her work here. Yes, you read right - Halle Berry. She of The Flintstones, Swordfish, and being married to David Justice fame. See, this is what happens when you give a good actress a great role. The best actresses will rise to the level of the role; the mediocre actresses will sink below it, collapsing under its weight.

Thornton has a tendency to pick offbeat, idiosyncratic roles, albeit usually with a Southern twist. His Hank is not a carbon copy of your stereotypical Dirty White Boy; he's a multilayered character with charm and evil mixed in. The film doesn't make him out to be a complete hero; just a flawed one. By the movie's end, he has come to grips (a little) with his failures and his shortcomings.

Berry and Thornton have a great supporting cast in Boyle and Ledger. When you think of a hateful, misanthropic, misogynistic demon, you don't think of Peter Boyle, who's turning in great comedic work on the TV show "Everybody Loves Raymond". But after this movie, you sure do. Great job. And Ledger - well, I know him best from The Patriot, as Mel Gibson's oldest son. In that movie, he was tough, but he was still a boy in a world of adults. That boy's grown up, and Ledger proves his mettle as an actor in this role.

There will be some who find this movie too slow; granted, if you're looking for action, this won't appeal to you. But it's an excellent story, and not as simplistic as it may seem on the outside. It's very well written (meaning that there are few plot holes), and ably directed. You may be fascinated, as I was, with the character development from beginning to end. Things are not - pardon the expression - treated as black-and-white issues; there are varying grays that are resolved and not resolved by movie's end.
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Extraordinary Performances by Berry and Thornton
jhclues31 March 2002
It's very rare, but occasionally a film comes along that plays out so realistically that it doesn't even seem like you're watching a movie, but participating-- albeit as an observer-- in this particular drama of life that is unfolding around you. And so it is with `Monster's Ball,' a riveting film, directed by Marc Forster, that is so real it transcends entertainment and becomes a voyeuristic experience that leaves you with the sense that you've been through everything that's happened yourself. It's a thought provoking examination of relationships and perspectives, including the ingrained, subjective attitudes-- especially prejudices-- that have such a profound and lasting affect on our lives, as well as the lives of those around us. It's a film that says so much about the way we respond to one another, as well as certain situations, and why; in short, it's about the world that we, as a society, have created and must live in together-- right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. And at the heart of the story is a message that rings through loud and true; a perception that we can do better-- and must-- if we are to survive as a civilized, dignified and progressive species. In the final analysis, we are, all of us, members of the family of Man; and it's time we realize and acknowledge it.

After eleven years on death row at a Georgia State Penitentiary, Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs) is out of appeals and is headed for the electric chair. There to make their final visit is Musgrove's wife, Leticia (Halle Berry), and their son, Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun), while veteran corrections officer Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) oversees the proceedings. Also on hand is third-generation corrections officer Sonny Grotowski (Heath Ledger), who during Musgrove's final walk discovers he doesn't have the stomach required to perform his duties, which will later create some conflict with his father.

Bigotry, it seems, is something of a family trait; Hank's father, Buck (Peter Boyle), a retired corrections officer, is the product of a time when African Americans `knew their place.' But it's an attitude that's apparently become somewhat watered down in his family from one generation to the next. Hank seems almost indifferent, even apathetic, when it comes to race, though under stress, especially, he defers to his father's views. Sonny, however, has a mind of his own, and by nature is more willing to embrace all of the myriad and diverse aspects of life as he sees it. And with the three generations of Grotowski men living under one roof, needless to say, there is more than some tension in the household, which inevitably leads to tragedy.

Leticia, meanwhile, is riding a downward spiral in her own life, attempting to cope with both her husband's situation and a problem with her son, while having to make a living on top of it all. And just when it seems that her world is about to fall into total collapse, circumstances bring her into contact with-- of all people-- Hank Grotowski. Call it fate, or just one of those things; but it becomes a turning point, not only in their lives, but in the lives of a number of people close to them. And very soon, for Hank and Leticia, especially, the world becomes a very different place.

Working from a screenplay by Milo Addica and Will Rokos that is intelligent, incisive and uncompromising, Forster delivers an emotionally absorbing drama that is raw, insightful and presented with a subtle intensity that is so thoroughly engrossing it becomes mesmerizing. It's a film that does not allow the viewer the luxury of casual observation or an indifferent attitude; the story is told in terms that are so brutally honest and starkly realistic that it does not provide for neutral ground or ambiguity on the part of it's audience. This is powerful drama, and Forster makes sure that everyone watching has the sense of actually being included as the story unfolds. He makes you a part of this world in which Hank, Leticia and the others live-- there's no standing on the sidelines with this one. As in real life, with this film you are confronted with situations that demand resolution and force you to make decisions.

It takes a number of elements to make a truly great film, of course, and in this one they all come together beautifully-- especially in the performances, beginning with Billy Bob Thornton, who is without question one of the best leading men/character actors in the business. He's a true chameleon who never ceases to amaze with his versatility and his ability to create believable, interesting and memorable characters, from Karl (arguably his most memorable) in `Sling Blade,' to Jacob in `A Simple Plan,' or Russell in `Pushing Tin' to Hank in this film, whom he captures with absolutely incredible subtlety and depth. It's a terrific performance, delivered with nuance and restraint, and it should have earned him an Oscar nomination, as it was clearly one of the best performances of the year.

What really takes this film to a higher level, though, is the extraordinary performance by Halle Berry as Leticia, in whom she creates a finely layered, three-dimensional character that is singularly effective and entirely believable and real. In Leticia, you will find every conceivable emotion woven around conflicts born of the definitive complexities of life, the things we all experience in one way or another at one time or another, and to which everyone will be able to relate on some level, according to personal experience. In this performance, Berry does it all and gives her all, and it's work for which she deservedly was awarded the Oscar for Best Actress. When you come away from this film, it's with the indelible images of Leticia and Hank burned into your memory, thanks to the talents of Berry, Thornton and Forster. `Monster's Ball' is compelling, unforgettable drama, and an example of filmmaking at it's best. 10/10.
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Southern Gothic - dark and disturbing
ElFabuloso13 January 2007
Monster's Ball is a compelling film of family conflict, rage and redemption. Halle Berry throws herself into this role like a prizefighter who leaves it all in the ring, and wins by unanimous decision. Billy Bob Thornton gives an electrifying performance as a man grappling with his demons and wanting his better self to emerge victorious.

This movie is a study in ambiguity. The characters are complex with human imperfection, no one (with the exception of Hank's father, played by Peter Boyle) emerging as completely likable or entirely bad. Hank's son played by Heath Ledger fulfills the adage that no good deed goes unpunished, and it's never clear that anyone truly gets whats coming to them.

I'm not sure one should read too much into this movie as a study of attitudes towards race in today's America, but as a portrayal of human frailty and the continuing quest for hope and optimism, Monster's Ball is a can't-miss film experience.
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A very compelling and sincere movie
Philip Van der Veken21 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Monster's Ball wasn't made with a big budget by some very well known director. And to make things "worse", it's controversial as well because the story isn't exactly about a family living together happy with more money than there is water in the sea. And they weren't afraid to put a lot of racism in it, which was necessary to make this movie believable, but for some "politically correct" people, already reasons enough to say they didn't like it.

The movie tells us the story of Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), a racist white prison guard who works on Death Row and Leticia Musgrove (Halle Berry), a black woman whose husband is about to be executed. Hank lives with his father and his son, who he really hates, under the same roof. But when a tragedy takes his son away, he starts thinking about his ideas. In the mean while he has met Leticia, not knowing who she really is and soon they fall in love with each other. This is the start of a relationship based rather on desperation than on love.

Monster's ball doesn't use cheap Hollywood sentiment like you might expect from this kind of movies, but is sincere and very compelling. This is of course also thanks to excellent performances. Halle Berry got an Oscar for it, but what I don't understand is why Billy Bob Thornton wasn't even nominated. His character may not be as likable and no he isn't as good looking as Berry, but his performance certainly wasn't any less. In fact, the entire movie was more than just worth a watch. It's very nice to see that there still are unknown directors who can make good movies with a good story, some fine actors and a small budget. I really enjoyed it and that's why I give it an 8/10.
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Outstanding Performances!
bsmith555217 June 2002
"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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A very human tale of redemption
George Parker12 June 2002
"Monster's Ball" tells of a white man and a black woman in the rural South coming together through desperate human need; each suffering grief, guilt, remorse, and misery. A slow, plodding drama with rumbling racial undercurrents, the film tells a simple story, though not uneventful, with finely nuanced performances, especially by Berry who earned her keep and kudos. Recommended for mature audiences into serious drama.
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Truly powerful and beautiful
Senator_Corleone28 March 2003
When I first heard that Halle Berry was getting publicity over a film called "Monster's Ball", a movie I had never even heard of, I was a little skeptical. I mean, come on, this is HALLE BERRY. The star of "B.A.P.S.". The actress who said "You know what happens to a toad when it gets hit by lightning? The same thing as what happens to everyone else," in "X-Men". I was not convinced. Then I saw the movie and my jaw dropped. Who knew Berry had this in her? A performance of emotion, range, and power, Berry's Leticia Musgrove redefined the actress' career and brought new meaning to the phrase "emotionally distraught". The film's plot, while fundamentally simple, hides layers of emotion and deep character analysis. Billy Bob Thorton is as strong as he's ever been as Hank Grotowski, a selfish and racist prison guard who lives with his vicious and hateful father, Buck (Peter Boyle), and his sweet and utterly decent son Sonny (Heath Ledger). Hank hates his father, who has ruined his life up to this point in time, and also says he hates his son, in who he sees the character traits he lost so long ago. Halle Berry is a deadbeat African-American mom of an overweight son (Coronji Calhoun) with a husband (Sean Combs) who is on Death Row. Unforseen tragic events bring these seemingly unmatchable people together, and their mutual hurt and sadness climaxes in one of the most powerful and emotional love scenes in film history. A common complaint I have with sex in the movies these days is that it doesn't ever seem to make sense with the story. This sex scene, however, is a perfect evolution of the story and is an extension of the two characters' mutual need to feel something other than grief. "Make me feel good" Berry cries in a mix of ecstasy and anguish. In another brilliant moment later in the film, Hank gives oral satisfaction to Leticia, but the moment is not uncomfortable or pointless because it illustrates Hank's devotion to this woman and how he is now wholly devoted to giving everything he has to this other person ("I've never done that before."). His act of rescuing her is his own redemption. "Monster's Ball" is a truly beautiful and effective film about redemption and the importance of our love for other human beings. The final shot, with Hank and Leticia on the front porch of Hank's house with a bowl of ice cream, is one of the most quietly poetic and effective endings I have ever seen, and Hank's final line is a perfect closer to a film about the ultimate redemptive quality of love-"I think we're gonna be alright."
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rduke-216 March 2003
I just finished seeing this movie for the first time. I'll begin by saying that it's been some time since a film got the reaction out of me this one did. For the first 45 minutes, I was convinced this movie was intent on trying to be the most depressing story ever told. For the next 45 minutes, I was still interested, but my overall opinion was hanging on the ending..of which I was very skeptical, as I knew what was left to be revealed. Then, it was over. Boy, they just don't make enough of 'em that good, folks.

When you see a movie for the first time after it's already won mad Oscars, you end up judging performances based on that. Most times, it doesn't help their cause. Kim Basinger in LA Confidential (another movie I love) springs to mind. Up to the last 10 minutes of this movie, my opinion was that Halle had done a real nice was an interesting character, and she certainly hadn't done anything to screw it up. Then, came that moment on the back steps...and that look...and that immediate realization that sometimes we're just along for the damn ride, and there ain't a whole lot anybody can do about it but try and hang on and not get run over. That five seconds defines this movie...if it doesn't work, the whole thing crashes. I applaud her craft--she totally nailed it.

This is definitely Billy Bob's best performance since Sling Blade...a movie so good, it almost becomes cliche in your memory. There are times here when he carries himself with a beaten-down grace that is just brilliantly complex. Who knows where this character would end up in the hands of another actor, but I can't think of one that would have left me feeling the same way.

For those of you who don't get this movie--be it for the lack of attention to certain strings of logic in what appears to be a real small town; or for its refusal to spell out for you what somebody may be thinking from moment to moment, let alone from day to day...well, I'm sure the next Matrix is gonna be real good, too. I'm just glad that there are still folks out there making movies that can totally exist on a back porch with a pint of ice cream.

I give this film a 9.
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"Victim's Ball"
steinbeck_5329 November 2002
Warning: Spoilers
The writers, director and producer of Monster's Ball should be ASHAMED and EMBARRASSED for actually charging innocent people to view this feeble attempt at a love story between a white male and a black female. You have to assume that is what they are attempting because the movie actually has no real story with a conflict or problem that needs to be solved.

*****spoiler follow*****

The black people in this film are all victims. The victimization starts with Lawrence Musgrove (Sean P. Diddy Combs) who is to be executed for a crime that is never mentioned. A large amount of time is used to show how the prison guards are preparing for the execution and Lawrence spends time with his wife and son. It would have been helpful to know if he was being sent to the electric chair because he shot 16 innocent people with a machine gun, or was he caught stealing at the local Walmart? As it is, he is just a victim without a story.

Then there is Leticia Musgrove who is the greatest victim in Hollywood history. Her husband is executed, her son is run over and killed, she is being evicted, she loses her job, and her car breaks down. She has no friends or support people. No mother, father, sisters or brothers to lean on. She is just alone in the big world all by herself.

Meanwhile, Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) is busy being a racist and child hater. He quits his job for a reason that is never explained, wanders around aimlessly, and must contend with a father who would make a member of the KKK blush. His son commits suicide in front of him and yet he has no remorse!!

SUDDENLY there is a change of heart by Hank who decides that black people really aren't that bad after all. He is nice to his black neighbors, who earlier in the movie were told to stay off his property or else. He gets a black girlfriend, sleeps with her, and decides he'll have her move in as well. We don't know why Hank changes. This script requires that you be a mind reader!! Maybe it's because Leticia is so beautiful but that is just a guess.

Is it a surprise that Leticia would be interested in Hank? What other choices does she have in life? It's really sad to think that the writers and director couldn't envision a love affair in which these two people come together because they like each other as equals. Instead, we get the 1902 version of race relations. The empowered and the victim.

The final victim in this story is Halle Berry herself. I will never understand how she was talked into an X-rated scene. There was absolutely no reason to go that far. She should have talked to Sidney Poitier who turned down roles that were negative stereotypes of black people when roles for minorities were almost impossible to find. She should have received an Oscar for "bad judgment". This movie gets a "1" on the scale of "1-10". Truly awful. It probably would have received a "10" in 1902.
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Excellent Acting Fills Out Taut Small Town Story
noralee20 December 2005
"Monster's Ball" is the fourth of the 2001 movies for grown-ups about adults dealing with death. Here the main characters find redemption through personal relationships and provide hope.

While some in the audience complained it was too slow, the original script by Milo Addica and Will Rokos feels like an expansion of a short story, as the outlines of the plot are fairly simple and not all the back story is explained, and riddled with coincidences barely made feasible by taking place in a small town.

Director Marc Forster finds a way to visually communicate the difference between sex and intimacy.

But the actors fill the spaces of inarticulate characters with complex performances, not just award-winning Halle Berry (a long way from "X Men"). Billy Bob Thornton starts out slightly less laconic than in "The Man Who Wasn't There" but very gradually finds the ability and a reason to smile.

Less attention has been paid to the excellence in smaller roles by Heath Ledger (yes hunky Heath) and Peter Boyle.

Country music is used in the background only when the radio is on; it's a nice local station they got there that plays Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

(originally written 2/17/2002)
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White Man's Burden Redux
benier1 September 2002
What are you repulsed by? Perhaps it's having sex with women of African origin inspite of the fact that you are a White male raised in a racist culture that dehmanises them. Add to this predicament, that you are a retired, widowed prison corrections officer who's only son kills himself because he feels he's failed you because he is not racist enough. Even worse, you become enligthtened enough to realise that .. you were ALWAYS wrong.

This is a brilliant story told from the rather selfish perspective of the White male. Mark Forster has directed a tour de force so intricate and psychologically honest that the story literally TELLS itself. Indeed, I'd bet this story organically spewed from souls of screenwirters Milo Addica & Will Rokos. They won't top this fete anytime soon. Such a gateway of insight only comes around once in a lifetime.

As a huge fan of David Mamet and Sam Shepard I am biased to appreciate a well balanced story, illustrated with terse dialogue, structured acting and effective filmic devices (i.e., the use of "white" paint", "black" coffee and "chocolate" ice cream in the film).

Any film student will also appreciate the poetic use of foreshadowing and irony in this film. This truly is SOLID filmaking that takes real chances with provocative subject matter.

The acting is superb more because of the Direction. To be certain: this is a Director's Film. Every aspect of Thorton's and Berry's performances is the result of very savvy Direction and attention to dramatic detail.

Kudos to Mr. Forster. I look forward his upcoming film "Neverland" with great anticipation.
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MorganStable28 April 2003
When a film's finest performance comes from Puffy, you know you're in trouble.

I've never racism, poverty, murder, and guilt so maudlinly handled without a second of truth.

I'll just list why I hated this movie:

1. Billy Bob, in the stiffest performance EVER, manages to recover from his life-long racism because Halle Berry's hot.

2. To demonstrate that she's poor, Halle Berry drives a car that has apparently been drenched in acid rain.

3. Berry wins the Oscar for SCREAMS and CROCODILE TEARS. The scene where she consumates her hormones with Billy Bob would be very much at home on Mystery Science Theater. Or in any movie with the word "Rod," "Suckers" "15", "Crack", or "Only in the...." in the tite.

4. Peter Boyle looks like he just woke up for each take.

5. Dramatic cross cutting allows us to watch Billy Bob buy ice cream and gas. WHAT THE F%^$?

6. Last like: "I need somebody to take care of me." Somewhere, Gloria Steinman is baning her head against the wall.

7. Chocolate ice cream with a plastic spoon. That's a character detail. Damn it to hell!!!!

And yet, critics, audiences, and the Academy loved it. Has anybody actually been in a poor rural town for even a second? Or read any Steinbeck novels? Or seen somebody cry? Or heard people speak? I adore rotten movies. I DESPISE "Serious" films that don't have a even a second of human truth. Shame on all of you for liking this one.
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Summed Up By Berry's Acceptance Speech
Theo Robertson19 September 2005
It's a well known fact that MONSTER'S BALL won Halle Berry an Oscar for best actress and led to one of the most bizarre sites in the history of the ceremony where Berry shrieked , wept and gnashed her teeth in an uncontrollable manner . She probably wasn't overcome with emotion - She was impersonating the average person's reaction to seeing this film !

Depressing doesn't even begin to sum up this movie . It starts with the domestic life of three generations of prison officers the Grotowski family , two of which give racist redneck scumbags a bad name . A black prisoner is about to be executed and the middle and younger Grotowski ( Hank and Sonny respectively ) are looking after him and these scenes are amongst the most feel good moments of the story ! Words fail to describe what a bleak depressing movie this is . It's about redemption and finding love in the worst of circumstances but it's never entirely convincing . The fate of Sonny Grotowski didn't ring true and in the case of Berry's character just how unlucky can someone be in such a short period of time ?

I will congratulate the performances of the cast in this very well acted movie . Billy Bob Thornton is probably best remembered as " one of the men who married Angelina Jolie " but is also one of America's underappricated actors ( His screen writing abilities are also overlooked ) who manages to rise above the sometimes inconsistent material while Halle Berry what can I say ? Apart from that she really did deserve the Oscar . Well regarded character actor and acting guru Peter Boyle might be disappointing as Hank's reactionary father but since his character spends most of his time sitting in a chair slowly dying from respiratory failure he's not given much to do

But it should be pointed out once again that this is a very sad and melancholy film that won't have anyone dancing in the aisles I did appreciate the good performances but I doubt I'll be watching it again in a hurry
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A perfect,intense drama
Argemaluco12 December 2006
Monster's ball is a real and excellent drama.The plot it has and the execution of it are very intense.The level of intensity it has is really weird to see in a movie.The film is very realistic and it tells dramas of people without falling in the cheap sentimentalism.The cinematography is another great element of this movie.The performances are simply extraordinary.Halle Berry has the Academy Award very deserved.Billy Bob Thornton gives a perfect level of intensity to his character.Heath Ledger brings an excellent performance.The great Peter Boyle has an excellent and realistic performance.He plays so well his character of a bad guy that I hated his character.This is(no doubt)one of the best films of 2001.
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frillypa21 April 2006
This film broke my heart and at the same time filled it to swelling. I never cried in the film, but had a lump in my throat the whole time. Halle Berry's intense insecurity mixed with a murky but strong sense of personal pride anchored this film, but Billy-Bob Thornton's brilliance gave it wings. It is incredible to me that he plays such unlikable characters with such pathos, but I am always grateful that he does. He doesn't choose easy stories, and this one is no exception ... a man ugly from the inside but still the most advanced person to come out of his raising. Heath Ledger showed such a weary sadness ... you almost feel glad that he escapes the same cycle, however terrible his method of doing so. I was surprised when the film ended and I felt a sense of hope and not hopelessness. It seemed to be saying that we have a future if we try to forgive and protect each other ... some secrets are about who we have been and will never be again. Forgive.
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Artistic and thematic
sheycavin26 June 2002
This is a very brave movie. Not because of the racism or the sex or the execution, but because it trusts its viewers. It does not insult us by making the characters chatter for hours beating the themes into the ground until even the most simple-minded viewer "gets" it. The screenwriters (like William Faulkner and Hemingway and Welty before them) understand that they won't reach most of the population. They teach to the top of the class by entrusting the theme to a few well-placed, well-acted lines. In a culture where few people have ever read a novel, much less a good novel, much less a great novel, this movie is brave enough to be literary. It challenges the viewer to draw from his or her own emotions and life experiences to meet it half-way. Most aren't willing to do that. They take their movies like they take their food, fast and easy. But for those of us looking for more, this is art. 10/10
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Very poorly written.
rushhire19 August 2008
This movie will insult your intelligence. It mocks humanity. It is very poorly written. Why did these famous actors agree to do this? Did they go out together and lose all their money in Vegas and become extremely desperate?

Why did the father hate his son so much? Why did the son commit suicide? Why was the nice black man executed?

I was horrified by the impossible evil nature of the father and wanted to just stop watching this ridiculous movie, but I had to find the answer to these questions. I trusted the writer would not be so abandon that he would least give an answer, and believe it or not, THERE'S NEVER A SINGLE ATTEMPT TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS! That's just wrong.

This movie is absolutely mindless. Nothing has any virtue at all except for shock value and dramatic emotion.

I'm sure this author does not know what it's like to have children. There has probably never been parent in the history of mankind who has ever hated their child like that. I don't think it's possible. After you have sacrificed time and money and pain to just to change diapers until the child can walk, he will be very precious to you. HOW MUCH MORE if he grows up to be a good and handsome young man with a good job and he looks up to and admires his father so he even follows his career.

We are supposed to believe that the star of the movie could be so evil that he tell his son he has always hated him and could then watch his son commit suicide and never shed a tear and then tell everyone he was glad he was dead!

These kinds of things never happen in reality. Only in some amateur author's depraved imagination. The average 14 year old, 9th grade English student can write a more convincing script than this.

Anyone with a soul will want this man to die and someone else take center stage. That's what I was expecting to happen. But he becomes the hero of the movie! That's twisted!

Watching this movie is like subjecting yourself to trauma based mind control. I wouldn't recommend it. I'm scarred for life now. Please save yourself!

The only thing good is the acting. Not enough to make it worth watching. The only way I can redeem this tragedy is by making a solemn vow to forever steer clear of these writers, Will Rokos, Milo Addica. I'm sure everything written by them stinks. Guys, writing is not your calling. I beg you, please find something you're good at.

The rating system usually works great at IMDb, but I'm sorry to see that in this case it has failed.
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My second favourite movie
6slick721 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I first became interested in this movie because I am a Halle Berry fan. It was not at all what I expected when I first watched it, so I was unsure of it. But I watched it again and now I love this movie and own it on VHS. It is hard hitting and hard to watch in places. But also very tender in a subtle sort of way in others. It confronts all the issues laid out in the movie with gusto. It is what I would call a "no holds barred" movie. It follows the lives of two very different people and their families and the people that they meet in everyday life. After a series of unfortunate, and sometimes tragic events these two people's lives become intertwined. In every day life, there are issues of racism, the death penalty, abuse and loneliness for these people. Tragedy strikes the two main characters, Hank and Leticia, in different ways yet the tragedy is similar in that they both lose their sons. The fact that they have this in common brings them together in an ironic twist. Sex also plays a part in how this movie progresses. From signifying the loneliness of a man who has to depend on a prostitute for affection, to the need of two ordinary people to get a respite, even if temporary, from a lot of heartache. The movie pivots on the latter of these sex scenes. It gives Hank and Leticia hope that things may not be so bad from now on. It is a raw, emotional and explicit scene, but it works because it is essential to the plot. After this the movie explores the highs and lows of their relationship. But you want things to work out between them after all that has happened. Can they learn to overcome their personal tragedies? Can they learn to love again? What does the future hold? If you want to know the answers, watch this movie. I would recommend it to anyone who is open minded about the issues dealt with in this movie. In my opinion Halle Berry deserved the Oscar. But Marc Forster and Billy Bob Thornton should have got one also.
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Disturbing, engaging work
Uqbar16 April 2003
This is the kind of gritty, fuzz-free reality drama that keeps you musing about it long past the ending credits. It is unsparing in its depiction of all the light and dark sides of the human psyche, from racism to passion to insularity and even corpulence, mounting these on a platform so stark and unambiguous that the audience is not left with many choices - the reactions evoked are exactly the ones intended to be evoked, oscillating between disgust, outrage, sympathy, tenderness and occasionally, even a surreptitious smile.

Most of the characters in the movie suffer somewhat from a lack of complexity, which is compensated for by casting them into circumstantial conflict to create the dramatic tension (a husband is electrocuted, a child dies, another child sends a bullet through his heart and into the couch behind, and so on). This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially because the remarkable performances (particularly from Halle Berry) validate this ploy. The exception to this, however, is the character of Hank Grotowski, played by Billy Bob Thornton. Billy Bob succeeds in imparting a subtle gray shade to this seemingly cardboard-cutout poster-boy-for-the-old-bigoted-south character that makes you hesitate from accepting him at face value. Is this simply about a saturnine, jaded racist being transformed by true love? Well, yes, that's part of it - the obvious part. But something keeps nagging you, preventing you from accepting this linear, justifiable inference, making you want to probe deeper, discover the reasons he has turned out this way, and even, in a perverse way, rationalize them. Is it just the provincial social climate? Is it the long proximity to his bigoted dotard of a father (played admirably by Peter Boyle)? Is he really that way or is he simply going with the flow? No simple explanation seems satisfactory - and the credit for this questioning, this need for deconstruction, goes to Billy Bob's nuanced performance.

All in all, beside the fact that some of the scenes may unsettle the squeamish, and that some promising characters like that of Grotowski's dispirited, conflicted son Sonny (played by Heath Ledger) were knocked off too early, the picture satisfies most norms for a good cinema experience - it makes you think, weep, squirm, analyze, rationalize, everything but walk out before it is over. In other words, it is what good cinema is about.
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Shame Kills
csm239 March 2003
Shame. It's the feeling of being less than, of being flawed. It's the suspicion that, no matter how well you do, something's still lacking; that somewhere, somehow, you could'a-would'a-should'a done better. To be good or excellent isn't enough: the only valid measure is perfection, a frustrating standard that changes with every change of perspective. It's the feeling of being inadequate at some fundamental level. And that's why I think Monster's Ball is an outstanding film: it's an unusually bold excursion into the personal and social dynamics of shame, which are inherently intertwined.

Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) plays a Mississippi `corrections' officer, who has the job of escorting death row inmates to the electric chair. His father, also a `corrections' officer before him, views his life of service as so just and honorable, as does Hank. Hank's son, Sonny, is dutifully carrying the torch to the third generation. Why, you'd be just brass statue proud to have the Grotowskis as neighbors, such upstanding pillars of the community. Inside, however, the Grotowskis are haunted by demons of self-doubt, and self-hatred.

A Monster's Ball is a set of rituals that steady the death row officers's nerves, and sets up bulwarks against the shame they feel. There's the obligatory pre-execution prayer: `They are brought down and fallen,' they chant, `but we are risen upright.' And when they practice their chthonic craft, they can't allow themselves to be human, to feel, or display, emotion -- the ultimate sin. So when Sonny commits the blasphemy of forming an emotional connection with the sentenced man, he lets his feelings show, and receives the full force of his father's considerable ability to shame. Hank condemns him as `weak,' a `woman,' a `pussy,' and a `piece of s**t.' Hank might just as well have taken out a gun and shot him himself.

Hank's redemption comes out of his personal tragedy. It's not sentimental or contrived. He makes mistakes, but he starts down the right path. It's tragic, but also very uplifting.
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Just as many open questions real life offers to us
dv-rec2 March 2003
This movie is outstanding and one of the best dramas i've ever seen.

Some might ask why, because there seems to be nothing really happening at all during the whole movie. Some say the plot is predictable and flat, and the characters too. In my opinion this is just not true. Try to tell the story in one or two lines. Most of the movies can be told in just a short summary, but this does not work for "Monster's Ball" at all. E.g. : "A prison guard falls in love with the wife of a prisoner he just executed". This is a simple tagline, but if you think of what could have happened to this basic plot with other directors, actors or script writers, the feeling of the movie goes in ten thousand different directions. But none of them matches this version. And this is, what makes "Monster's Ball" extremely outstanding.

This movie offers so many different plotlines, questions, and in-depth-characters you simply cannot describe the feeling of the movie and what is really happening here without telling every little bit of it. Yes, it's sad, and it's depressing, and it gives absolutely no answer to any problem at all (which we basically all want, while watching a movie). But in the end, despite all the drama, it's full of warmth and hope. And this is what it's all about. Just after the credits begin to appear, you sit there and think - about anything.

Technically "Monster's Ball" is nearly perfect. There is not a single scene, which could be missed and everything is at it's right place. The excellent music goes with well played characters and the timing makes the whole athmosphere so intense you cannot escape and switch off, even if you know that there will be no "great solution" at all. Some might say it's boring, and yes, you're right - but in this case "Monster's Ball" is simply not the movie you expected.

This one plays with anything we expect from a drama, and this is why most of the other dramas fail and "Monster's Ball" works. Other "so called drama" try to give us solutions, great feelings, great moments in life, and all the other rubbish. But "Monster's Ball" is so slow and intense and ignores all of the standard "drama issues" you have to think for yourselve what this is all about.

For me it's about love, hate, hope, racism, father-son/mother-son relationships, escaping from your past life, death, depressions, failures and many other things. Everything is shown and nothing is really explained. Just like life basically is - full of complex problems we create for ourselves. Some of them can be solved in one or another way, most of them we just ignore, and life still goes on, because we are able to exist with a whole universe of lies around us.
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This Movie Hits on All Cylinders
Gary Murphy16 February 2002
This is an emotionally complex, sometimes harsh movie to watch. The dialog and plot are true to the characters. The is no "lazy writing" here.

Billy Bob Thorton turns in a good, albeit unamimated, performance. His acting is understated, much like the performances of Chris Cooper. The real treat is the acting of Halle Berry. I have been a fan of her exceptional beauty and it was clear that she had acting talent when watching her in movies such as "Losing Isaiah". However, she was more often found in forgettable movies as the "Flintstones" or "Racing the Sun". Her performance in "Monster's Ball" leaves no doubt that she can act. It's rare to see an actor convey complex emotion with such clarity with no dialog. That ability is seen in actresses such as Juliette Binoche. We get to see it here in Halle Berry as well.

This is a fine movie on all counts. Acting, directing, plot; It's all here. This is a "must see" movie.
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