Saturday, 24 October 2009

Monster's Ball


Monster's Ball; Drama, USA, 2001; D: Marc Forster, S: Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Sean Combs

Hank is a prison guard in Louisiana who brings prisoners to the room where their death penalty awaits. His father Buck always taught him racism. When prisoner Musgrove gets executed, Hank's son Sonny, also an officer, loses his nerves and throws up. Hank gets angry and Sonny commits suicide. Shocked, Hank quits his job. Driving in his car, he spots African American Leticia, the wife of the deceased Musgrove, whose son is injured, and brings them to the hospital. Leticia's son dies but Hank is attracted to her and becomes her lover. He thus changes his racist views, sends his dad to a retirement home and moves Leticia into his house.

When Halle Berry was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and even won an Oscar as best actress for her role of Leticia in "Monster's Ball", becoming the first African American woman to do so, some cynically concluded that the 9/11 event had a big influence on that outcome since the US tried to keep its unity, even towards minorities. That is maybe true for "Training Day", but not for "Monster's Ball". Berry is truly excellent in her role, but also courageous - the almost 3 minute long erotic sequence of Leticia and Hank having intercourse, which is realistic and unglamourous, is something that was rarely seen in US films, even independent ones. Yet it is conclusive - racist Hank "merged his genes" with a race he previously hated, and now loves. The story is (over)filled with symbols and has some syrupy solutions, yet it also has some fine details and observations, like when Musgrove, a convict sentenced to death, is drawing his prison guards in his cell. Also, Hank's racist dad ends up in a retirement home led by an African American. The music is also good, as well as Heath Ledger in his small role as torn Sonny, yet the film is still slightly overlong and uneven, despite Berry's talent.

Grade:++

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