Monster’s Ball

Year: 2001
Directed By: Marc Forster
Written By: Milo Addica and Will Rokos

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is a movie of such raw and compelling emotion. For years I have made snide comments about how Halle Berry only won the Academy Award for the few minutes of this film that everyone remembers but I was wrong.  I’m watching it right now and can clearly see that I couldn’t have been more mistaken.  She turned in an impressive performance and now I feel bad for being such a shameless pervert. She plays such an authentic part in this movie. It’s a shame that her skills are overshadowed by the images of her flawlessly beautiful body.  For the record, I have never suggested she had skills when it comes to acting and in fact have been adamant to the opposite for years.  I’m admitting I was wrong now.  She deserved to win the Academy Award for this role.  She did an incredible job with this part and if nothing else a glimpse at her boobs should only be seen as an added bonus to something that was far more impressive.

She isn’t alone in turning in an impressive performance for this film.  They all did.  I am still to this day shocked at how impressed I am by P. Diddy, or he may have still been Puff Daddy then, who knows.  I would never give the guy credit for anything, I don’t really remember why but it has something to do with him simply “not being cool” when I was in high school.  I can’t deny him this film though, he played a smaller part but he played the hell out of it. I don’t understand how this part didn’t transition into more acting roles for him unless he simply didn’t like the job. Also doing exceedingly well in a small role was Peter Boyle.  Peter Boyle was around forever and finished his career in the limelight with an awesome role on Everybody Loves Raymond.  I wasn’t a big fan of that show but it was funny and Boyle specifically brought a lot of humor to it.  His role in this movie couldn’t be more different than the one everybody knew him from at the time and that made the performance even more impressive.

Though the part Peter Boyle plays is small it is arguably the most significant role in the film because the behavior of the other main characters derives from him.  He was a man from a different generation.  A mean and hateful man who spent his life knocking heads as a prison guard.  He passed this meanness down to his son, played by Billy Bob Thorton, who followed in his father’s footsteps to a tee.  He also spent his life as the head of prison security and was equally hard on his own son.  He spent his life trying to live up to his father’s harsh and uncouth standards but when his son, played by the late Heath Ledger, failed to do so he was ashamed of him.  His son felt the shame his father saw in him and it proved to be more than he could handle.  When he made the unfortunate decision to end it all he did so dramatically and put it all on his father’s shoulders.  He loved his father but never got any love in return.  His father did what he was taught to do but his son Sonny came from a different generation and needed more from his father. Sonny did his best to be who his father wanted him to be but his best wasn’t good enough.  In his father’s eyes he was nothing more than a disappointing son and Sonny couldn’t live with that understanding.

Hank took the passing of his son with the stoicism of a man who just bore himself of a cancerous organ but beneath the surface he felt the loss deeply.  When the local prostitute mentions his son to him he suddenly can’t perform and sends her away.  I think the mentioning of his son’s name brought to light that his son was so similar to he himself, even using the same woman sexually in the exact same manner.  When he takes a chance and helps out Leticia he’s going against the grain. He is doing something he would never have done under normal circumstances and in doing so begins to change himself.  They bond through the shared loss of their sons and he inadvertently falls in love with Leticia.  Deep down he did love his son but wanted so badly to continue living up to his own father’s ideals that he buried those feelings.  Leticia brings them back to the surface and his whole life changes. His picking up Leticia and continuing to help her is the first thing he does differently than his own father would have, and by doing so he begins to live life in a whole new manner.

We see the change begin when Hank and Leticia find themselves in the heat of the moment and have that wildly satisfying sex scene. Hank usually bangs women from behind in a distant manner like we see with the prostitute. Sex is nothing more to him than a source of pleasure and he performs in a completely impersonal manner. He begins this way with Leticia taking her from behind but then turns her around to face him during the act.  That change of positions is significant because it conveys that he sees her more than just an object to stick his dick in. They don’t just hardcore fuck but touch on something more. This racist man doesn’t just do what comes natural to him but he connects with this woman in a way he wasn’t ready for.  He falls in love with her as she rides him in all her vulnerability.  They have such an honest and interesting affair during this scene, and it needed to be graphic to convey what they were both going through.   She needed someone; she needed to feel loved and deep down so did he.  He was hard on his son because his dad was hard on him but deep down he loved him.  Deep down he feels the loss of his son as painfully as Halle Berry feels the loss of her son and they comfort each other with that shared pain.  It’s a beautiful thing really and I have noticed it more now than I ever have before.  This movie came out in 2001 and during those teenage years I only saw a beautiful woman’s boobs, but now I can see it for what it is.  I feel like I have just seen this scene for the first time because I have looked at it with different eyes.  Through the eyes of a perverted teenage male the symbolism of this scene is wasted.

This movie is almost dramatic to a fault but it is such an excellent film.  That authentic feel that drives the whole thing home is there.  This movie looks like a glimpse into the real life of a person we would otherwise never know anything about. That quiet guy who sits alone in the diner, the type of guy who never says anything and when he does it doesn’t come across as friendly. That man has hardships too, drama thrives in the lives of us all, but we will never hear about what that man is going through because he would never share his thoughts with anyone. This glimpse into his life is an interesting one.  I love the mismatched relationship that develops between Hank and Leticia because the underlying racism offers such a dynamic element to it. Hank and Leticia would never meet one another under most circumstances but when fate brings them together their lives are forever changed.  It is a change for the better as we see the emotionless and empty Hank find purpose in life again and something that looks like happiness.  The unlikely couple have been through the ringer but together they find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.

This is an interesting story and I am happy to have appreciated it for what it really is for the first time.  I remember watching this movie long ago and actually paying attention well enough to know it was good but I hadn’t seen it in probably ten years since.  Somewhere during that time the memory of the movie’s value got lost in favor of the immature memory that preceded it. I love a movie so much more when I can revisit it like this. When watching it again feels like watching it for the first time and I get a whole new perspective on it. I think this movie can teach us something about love.  About what burying our feelings can do to us as well as how taking chances can change our lives.  There is also something to learn about racism and how much better life can be when old and outdated perceptions are put behind us.  Don’t make the same foolish mistake I did and let this movie linger in the back of your mind as nothing more than a guilty pleasure and with perverted intent.  If you get the opportunity to see it again you should look deeper into it and see how great it is.  This movie is more than worth your time and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it myself.

On a side note, in case anybody is curious as to the film’s title.  It’s mentioned in the movie that the term “Monster’s Ball” is for the party they throw for a rookie prison guard the night before his first execution.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I can’t help but be curious if other people watch this movie simply for the sex scene? I mean, I think this movie is incredible, but the sex scene between Billy Bob and Halle Berry is the only thing that most people take away from it. It tells a story that is close to the heart and can be very real in some places of the country. This movie was included in the year’s Oscars and I think most of it was well worth nominating.

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The tagline for this movie is “A Lifetime of Change Can Happen in a Single Moment.” So, really, I am not the only one who seems to only remember the sex scene. I am not a fan of this poster at all. I don’t know what it is about at all, and I don’t see anything drawing me in further. The typography is boring and just simply justified. I see that they are trying to get both main characters into the forefront of the poster, probably to let the viewers know who is in the movie, but this just doesn’t work for me. They break it up with a horrible brush that makes no sense to me. The colors are all wrong too, and if you are going to make that choice creatively, it at least needs to make sense. I think the eventual DVD cover did a much better job at promoting this movie. This great flick was not accompanied by a good poster, and that’s a shame.

NEXT MOVIE: The Monster Squad (1987)

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3 comments

    1. I appreciate the positive feedback. This movie caught me off guard a bit because it really sucked me in this time. I’ll certainly never say another negative word about Berry. She earned her Oscar in spades with her performance.

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