- Billy Bob Thornton as Hank Grotowski
- Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove
- Heath Ledger as Sonny Grotowski
- Peter Boyle as Buck Grotowski
- Sean Combs as Lawrence Musgrove
Monster’s Ball is a compelling story of family, redemption and grief in the South. Anchored by the performances of Billy Bob Thornton and an Oscar-winning Halle Berry, it focuses on the slow personal bond emerges between two very different characters as they navigate their way through tragedy. It may be tough to watch at times, but the performances and the sensitive script make Monster’s Ball worth viewing.
Hank Grotowski is an embittered corrections officer in the Georgia State Prison. Sonny, Hank’s son, also has the same job as his father. Their personal lives are bleak with Hank having a deep hatred of Sonny and living with Hank’s racist father Buck, who although failing in his health, still rules the house with an iron will. At the moment, they are to undersea the execution of Lawrence Musgrove, a convicted murderer with a talent for drawing. Whereas Hank doesn’t get involved personally with Lawrence, the more understanding Sonny sees the good in him. When they are to execute Lawrence, the proceedings really get to Sonny who vomits and can’t go through with it. After Lawrence is electrocuted, Hank berates Sonny for his weakness. Meanwhile, over the years, Lawrence’s wife Leticia has visited with his son. Leticia is tired of coming to the place and is failing to keep her house running, whilst raising her young son all by herself. Later on, when tragedy strikes for both Hank and Leticia, they are suddenly thrust together and slowly form an unlikely but powerful bond with each other as they attempt to heal the deep wounds of loss. Against this backdrop of grief, Hank and Leticia are able to connect with each other and finally open up about their personal demons. Cue for intense acting, high drama and a sensitive relationship that emerges between these two flawed and human characters.
For the first half hour or so, I was initially unsure of Monster’s Ball. The slow pacing felt like it would be an arduous journey, but then I realised the purpose of this was to build on the complexities of these characters and I began to see the good in the picture. Although very bleak at times, there is still that glimmer of hope between the characters that saves Monster’s Ball from sliding into constant misery. Once the film hits its stride, boy does it soar to dramatic heights. The tough but also very sensitive screenplay shows us wounded characters in need of someone to open up to and care for them and manages to tackle issues of racism and bigotry. Although racism does play a part in the film( prominently in the case of Hank’s father), it isn’t the main theme of the piece but the way it is shown is still powerful written. The main theme is the gradual connection of two souls understanding what the other is going through. We subtly gain insights into Hank and Leticia’s characters and how each one of them changes the other in the process of their relationship. At times Marc Forster’s directing style is at odds with the narrative, but for the most part he fashions a powerful film about the complexities of the heart and the way people just need someone to listen to in a time of sorrow.
The biggest asset to Monster’s Ball has definitely got to be the talented cast. As the embittered Hank, Billy Bob Thornton manages to convey a deep sadness and a certain amount of hope as his worldview changes and he resents his father’s opinions. The real standout performance is Halle Berry, who collected a well-deserved Oscar for her role. She conveys so much of Leticia’s emotions, from her grief, vulnerability and tired pain to her gradually deep understanding of Hank. There is one particular moment that I will always remember of Berry’s performance. In it, the camera focuses on her face and you see the various emotions almost simultaneously flash across it. It is an outstanding moment that showcases Halle Berry’s range as an actress. Even though many remember the pivotal love scene between Hank and Leticia, it is not there just to be sexy, it is there to showcase the connection between the two as they open up the deep emotional scars that lie beneath the surface. In the supporting cast, Heath Ledger shines with his brief appearance as the hated Sonny, who desperately wants a connection with his distant father but unfortunately never gets it. Peter Boyle is a surly presence as the ailing but angry racist who begins to push Hank to breaking point as he berates him over his choices. In the role of Lawrence, Sean Combs excellently plays the catalyst of the story with a great amount of sensitivity.
Difficult to watch at times due to some unpleasant violence and the flawed yet very realistic characters, Monster’s Ball is worth watching as a powerful study of grief, human connection and redemption. Aided by two powerful performances, Monster’s Ball is compelling and equally dramatic.