Movie Review: Monster's Ball

By Erik Petersen
Movie Magazine International
Monster’s Ball
Movie review by Erik Petersen
Air date: 1/30/01

“Monster’s Ball” opens to the sounds of retching. Off-camera Hank Grotowski, played by Billy Bob Thornton, is purging himself of the poison bile that resides inside him, an appropriate metaphor for the transformation Hank undergoes.

Directed by Marc Forster “Monster’s Ball” is a ruminative film about interracial love set against a backdrop of capital punishment. Set in Georgia, the Swiss born director does a wonderful job of evoking the deliberate, Southern way of life through the pacing and tone. In some scenes he uses contemplative pauses and the absence of dialogue to say so much.

Mr. Thornton’s Hank Grotowski, along with his only child Sonny, have followed in his racist father Buck’s footsteps and are corrections officers at the local prison. Together Hank and Sonny must carry out the execution of condemned prisoner Lawrence Musgrove who is played by Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, in a wonderfully tempered performance.

Hank and Sonny share a home with the feeble, old Buck played by Peter Boyle, who despite his physical limitations, revels in his power to intimidate and bully. A decrepit old bigot, he sadistically toys with Hank and later the tough but vulnerable Leticia. Hank simply swallows it all, displaying an emotional range that fluctuates between repressed hostility and unmitigated rage. We see Hank as a product of his upbringing, subscribing to his father’s hateful ways and bending to his every whim, like chasing the neighboring African American children off his property with a few rounds from his shotgun.

Mr. Thornton’s performance is spellbinding, which comes as no surprise. However Heath Ledger, who plays Hank’s child Sonny really surprised me. It’s heartbreaking to watch him as he tries to connect with the town prostitute or as he drowns his sorrows in the local tavern. Yet his character never begs for our pity. In one scene he must escort Musgrove, the condemned man, to the electric chair and his body simply betrays him. A truly remarkable performance.

The core of the film revolves around Hank’s relationship with Leticia Musgrove, the condemned man’s widow. Halle Berry is fantastic as the desperate Leticia who hungers for something in her life to take away all the pain and misery. It’s impressive to watch as the two carefully navigate their way toward one another, like two porcupines. Suffice to say the baggage these two bring to a relationship outweighs most. I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.

More Information:
Monster's Ball
USA - 2001