Monster's Ball

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Monsters Ball
Monsterspub1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMarc Forster
Produced byLee Daniels
Written byMilo Addica
Will Rokos
StarringBilly Bob Thornton
Halle Berry
Heath Ledger
Peter Boyle
Sean Combs
Music byAsche and Spencer
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Editing byMatt Chesse
StudioLee Daniels Entertainment
Distributed byLionsgate
Release dates
  • November 11, 2001 (2001-11-11) (AFI Fest)
  • February 8, 2002 (2002-02-08)
Running time111 minutes
112 minutes (Unrated)
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$4 million
Box office$44,909,486
 
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Monsters Ball
Monsterspub1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMarc Forster
Produced byLee Daniels
Written byMilo Addica
Will Rokos
StarringBilly Bob Thornton
Halle Berry
Heath Ledger
Peter Boyle
Sean Combs
Music byAsche and Spencer
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Editing byMatt Chesse
StudioLee Daniels Entertainment
Distributed byLionsgate
Release dates
  • November 11, 2001 (2001-11-11) (AFI Fest)
  • February 8, 2002 (2002-02-08)
Running time111 minutes
112 minutes (Unrated)
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$4 million
Box office$44,909,486

Monster's Ball is a 2001 American romantic drama film directed by German-Swiss director Marc Forster starring Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton and Heath Ledger. The film tells the story of a poor Southern woman who falls for a widowed prison-guard after the execution of her husband.

Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

Plot[edit]

Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), a widower, and his son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), are corrections officers in a Georgia State Prison. They reside in Jackson with Hank's ailing father, Buck (Peter Boyle), a racist whose wife committed suicide.

The audience is first introduced to Sonny through a series of telling incidents: he has an encounter with a local prostitute, Vera, which is startlingly empty; with her back to her client, Vera strips and bends over a desk, telling him to go easy because she's sore, to which he replies, "Yes ma'am." Their "lovemaking" is over in less than a minute, and a minute after that, Vera is out the door, having refused Sonny's almost pathetic offer to have something to eat or just talk.

Hank, meanwhile, as a deputy warden oversees the execution of convicted murderers, and begins the finalization of each execution date by vomiting in his bathroom. When he and Sonny are assigned the execution of Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), the proceedings prove too intense for Sonny, who begins to vomit and then collapses as he is leading Lawrence to the electric chair. Ironically, Hank (having thrown up at home) attacks Sonny in the jail's bathroom afterwards for being so "soft" and ruining a man's last walk. The attack continues even after Hank and Sonny are home, with father confronting son in his bed and telling him to get out of the house. Sonny grabs a gun, and threatens his dad, who backs off. The confrontation ends in their living room with Hank at gunpoint, lying on the carpet, and Sonny in Buck's customary chair. Sonny asks his father if he hates him. After his father calmly confirms that he does and always has, Sonny responds, "Well, I always loved you," and then shoots himself in the heart. Hank subsequently buries Sonny in the back garden with no real funeral; Buck offers the only comment: "He was weak." Hank prevents the preacher from speaking, saying all he wants to hear is the sound of dirt hitting the casket. But he's not as unmoved as he looks. Hank subsequently quits his job, burns his uniform in the backyard, and bolts shut the door of Sonny's room.

During the years of Lawrence's imprisonment, his wife, Leticia (Halle Berry), has been struggling to raise their son, Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun), who has inherited his father's artistic talent. She goads the boy to the point of abuse over his obesity, proving to be not much more sensitive a mother than Hank was a father. Along with her domestic problems, Leticia struggles financially, leading to the loss of the family car and, worse, the start of the eviction process whereby she'll lose her house. In desperate need of money, Leticia takes a job at a diner frequented by Hank. Their first encounter is a disaster: she spills his coffee and jams the cash register, annoying Hank, who has made a date with Vera--the same prostitute Sonny frequented. Told how much the bill is, Hank makes his displeasure known by leaving Leticia eight cents as a tip. But his rendezvous with Vera--move for move, an exact duplicate of Sonny's, in which there is no touching, no foreplay, no real lovemaking, but only a rear entry while Vera leans casually over the same desk she leaned over with Sonny--turns out to be a bust too. As Hank is preparing for this round of ice-cold sex, Vera asks, "How's Sonny?" After which Hank is unable to perform. But Hank and Leticia are destined to meet again. One rainy night, Leticia and Tyrell are walking down a soaked highway when Tyrell is struck by a car. Hank happens to be driving along and sees Leticia and Tyrell. After some hesitation, he picks up mother and son and takes them to a hospital, but Tyrell dies upon arrival. At the suggestion of the authorities at the hospital, Hank drives Leticia home. A few days later, Hank gives Leticia a ride, this time home from the diner. They begin talking in the car about their common losses, and she invites him in. Hank finds out that Leticia is Lawrence's widow, though he does not tell her that he participated in her husband's execution. He "celebrates" this discovery by vomiting in her bathroom, after they've drowned their grief with alcohol and, in a particularly raw and graphic display, have had sex as Leticia repeatedly groans, "Make me feel good!". Hank starts the session by turning her around, for the same sterile doggie-style sex he's had with Vera. But Leticia doesn't let that go on for long, turning around and wrapping her entire body around her lover. Afterward, Hank confesses that it's been a long time since he felt anything at all.

After this encounter, Hank decides to eliminate at least one of Leticia's problems: he giver her Sonny's old car. She doesn't know how to drive a standard, and says she just can't accept such an extravagant gift, but she's clearly thrilled to have it.

In return, she pawns her wedding ring to buy Hank a gift: a new weatherproof Western hat. Leticia stops by Hank's home with her present, but finds that he is out. Instead she meets Buck, who promptly tells her that in his younger days, he had "a thing for nigger juice", and that Hank takes after his old man in wanting to "split dark open." Hurt and repulsed, Leticia leaves, refusing to interact with Hank, who arrives just in time to see her storming out of the house. That incident proves to be the last straw for Hank: he is changing and wants different choices, so he decides to send his father to a nursing home. Leticia is evicted from her home for non-payment of rent and Hank invites her to move in with him. She later discovers Hank's involvement in her husband's death when she enters Sonny's room--finally unlocked to accommodate Tyrell's things--and finds drawings of Hank and Sonny done by Lawrence before his death. She erupts, and seems to be at a crossroads--what will she do next?--but is there waiting for Hank when he returns from town with ice cream. She is still stunned, but Hank tells her simply, "You look real pretty. Wanna come out on the steps?" The film ends with the two of them eating ice cream together on the back porch, content with each other.

Cast[edit]

Development[edit]

The film was produced by Lionsgate and Lee Daniels Entertainment.

Louisiana State Penitentiary served as a filming location.

The prison scenes in Monster's Ball were filmed in Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola, LA with actors wearing Louisiana State Corrections Uniforms in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana to represent the Georgia State execution facility in Jackson, Georgia.

Angela Bassett was originally offered the role of Leticia but turned it down because of the script's sexual content.

Reception[edit]

The film received mostly positive reviews. Review website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 120 of the 141 reviews they tallied were positive. This resulted in a score of 85% and a certification of "Fresh".[1]

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and stated that, "The movie has the complexity of great fiction"[2] listing it as the best film of 2001.

Reviewers also lauded the performance of Coronji Calhoun, who was chosen from an open casting call for the role of Tyrell Musgrove, the ill-fated son of Lawrence and Leticia. "Perhaps one of the most affecting performances of the year was given by a 10-year-old Louisiana fourth-grader who has never acted before or studied the craft," commented Variety reporter Christopher Grove.

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]