Monster's Ball (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner06/07/2002

Four out of five stars
Running time: 112 mins

Moving, powerful drama with terrific central performances - Halle Berry deservedly won an Oscar, but Thornton is equally impressive.

Halle Berry’s embarrassing Gywnneth-athon at this year’s Oscars should not detract from the fact that, as Monster’s Ball clearly shows, she genuinely deserved the award. However, that’s no excuse for the fact that Billy Bob Thornton was criminally over-looked – he gives a terrific performance that, once again, shows why he’s one of the most interesting actors around at the moment.

The Plot

Hank (Thornton) and Sonny (Ledger) are a father and son who both work as prison guards assigned to Death Row in a dusty Georgian town. Their job involves giving prisoner Sean Combs a ‘Monster’s Ball’ (prison slang for the rituals of an inmate’s last night on Death Row – the last meal, the last rites etc).

Also present on Combs’ last day are his soon-to-be-widow (Berry) and their tubby son. Initially there’s no contact between Thornton and Berry, but mutual tragedies in their lives soon bring the pair together…

The film has a slow-burning intensity that is initially disarming, since the pace does little to prepare you for the explosive nature of both the tragic elements and, when it comes, the much-touted, incredibly powerful sex scene between the two actors. It’s a scene that shows both the hunger for human contact and the desperation of both characters, and the actors give it everything they’ve got.

In fact, it’s unlike any such scene in recent memory, a raw, emotional moment that, for once, is entirely justified by the script. Rest assured, this is not a scene to seek out for cheap thrills – if you want that, you’re better off with Unfaithful.

The script for Monster’s Ball was written by two unknown actors (Milo Addica and Will Rokos) and its entirely to their credit that the film is as powerful as it is, since it apparently went through years of proposed studio ‘suggestions’ to lessen its impact - all of them, thankfully, rejected.

The Acting

The acting is superb. Both actors thoroughly inhabit their characters and director Marc Foster trusts them to speak volumes through body language and gestures alone. There’s also great support from Peter Boyle, as Thornton’s racist father, a thoroughly despicable character and from young Coronji Calhoun as Combs’ son - fathers and sons are a dominant theme in the film.

To sum up, Monster’s Ball is not an easy film to sit through (it’s practically a ‘feel-bad’ movie), but it is unquestionably worth seeing for its two powerful central performances. Recommended.

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Content updated: 14/12/2017 19:09

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