Monster's Ball

Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger.
Directed Marc Forster.
Running Time: 112 mins
Rated: R
There is nothing like an Oscar to raise a film's profile. Halle Berry's Best Actress award has seen Monster's Ball shoot into the top ten box office films at Australian cinemas. Given that the film has an R rating, this is very difficult to achieve. If you are considering following the crowd, be fully warned about what you are going to see.
In the Penitentiary of the State of Georgia, African American Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs) is in the final days of his life on death row. His long-suffering wife Leticia (Berry) brings their very obese son Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) for a final visit. Among Lawrence's warders are the racist Hank (Thornton) and his only child Sonny (Ledger).

Sonny has never been part of an execution team before and his anxiety heightens the already tragic and violent elements in his relationship with his father. Leticia never meets Hank until after Lawrence's electrocution, when a car hits Tyrell and Hank is the next driver to pass by. Against the ingrained racism of the Deep South and his family, Hank becomes involved with Leticia, who is destined to discover that her new boyfriend was the one who strapped her husband into the electric chair.

Monster's Ball is not a pretty or easy cinematic experience. The story, language, violence and sex scenes will shock some viewers and greatly offend others. Marc Forster's direction lurches from inspired to a staged look that robs some of his potentially gripping scenes of their power. He overdoes the locked cupboard/doors/chest theme too. We get the prison metaphor fairly quickly. Roberto Schaeffer's excellent cinematography appropriately realises the bleakness of the story.

For those who like the cinema to confront them with social realism writ large, Monster's Ball charts the cycle of hatred violence begets, and in the end offers a glimmer of hope in the most unusual conversion story the cinema has portrayed in years. This film is superbly acted and the breadth and depth of Halle Berry's performance is outstanding. If this year's Best Actress lures you, be prepared!

Richard Leonard SJ

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