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:: Monster's Ball

A few interesting issues are touched on in “Monster’s Ball”. Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) works as a prison guard on death row in a Georgia penitentiary. He begins an association with a black woman Leticia (Halle Berry), the widow of a man (Sean Combs) that Hank has just put to death. The association becomes an unlikely romance because Hank, at first, appears as bigoted as his father (Peter Boyle). Hank’s hard line attitude has a dramatic effect on his son Sonny (Heath Ledger). He is a rookie cop who hasn’t lived up to his father’s expectations. So, director Marc Forster raises many issues, in an unrelentingly dark way. The grimness often verges into pure melodrama, but Forster gets real value from his cast and knows how to use the camera.

It’s poignant to follow Hank’s mindset throughout the film. As a redneck from the Deep South of America, influenced by his father, one wouldn’t anticipate a change of social consciousness. In then deciding to seek another job, he steps into a fateful connection with Leticia, a woman who has reached an emotional rock bottom, with even more tests of her strength still to come. This tentative romance changes Leticia’s fortunes and Hank’s outlook on his dark life. Forster shows a sincere heart and faithful honesty. He doesn’t flinch in addressing bigotry. He chooses not to make racism a big deal in Hank and Leticia’s relationship, which is based on dependency anyway.

The actors offer their utmost to “Monster’s Ball”. Thornton is contemplative and emotional as Hank. He helps elevate everyone with a fine performance. Thankfully, the film is a better representation of what Halle Berry can give to the screen. Taking away her familiar glamour and great looks, she is forced to fight her way through a testing character. One can see the inner torment in her face. She bares her soul and forges a strong chemistry with Thornton.

The film takes conventional plot ideas and uses them to enrich the characters and create a forceful statement. Forster should be lauded for his commitment to a bold project. “Monster’s Ball” is tough and gritty on the outside, yet love and hope are waiting on the inside.

Screening on general release