After a family tragedy, a racist prison guard reexamines his attitudes while falling in love with the African American wife of the last prisoner he executed.
I've watched this film a few times in the past few years. It's not the easiest film in the world to watch as it's essentially a film about loneliness and how it spreads from family member to family member like a virus. No one is connected in this film until the last image, and the look that Halle Berry's character gives Billy Bob Thornton's character can be interrupted in many ways depending on who's watching. She's really settling for him because he's there and there is no one else. And sometimes that's all you need to be connected to someone.
Monster's Ball is a very real film. Too real perhaps for many viewers. I loved this film and it easily could of been a movie that got lost in the shuffle if it wasn't for Halle Berry's OSCAR win for Best Actress. That achievement opened the doors for a new audience who might of been disappointed because Ms. Halle isn't playing no sex vamp.
I took a look at this film again because of Heath Ledger, who co-stars in the film as Sonny Grotowski, son to Hank (Billy Bob Thornton). As of this writing Ledger is set to win an Oscar for his final role in The Dark Knight.
Ledger is only in Monster's Ball in the first act and his death is what pushes the story and emotional arc of Thornton's character forward. He plays a tortured soul who really has no one in his life who really cares about him, much less love him. The first image we see of his character is when he's looking into the mirror in a Hooker Motel Room as the mirror is shot in a disorted way to enhance and show his character's emotional point of view. He sees himself as an ugly person because he has no love. The only connection he can find is a hooker who he sees for 5 minutes and has sex with in the most non-intimate way you can.
It hasn't been scientifically proven, but love is also what we need in order to survive. When Ledger screws up on the job (playing a death row prison guard - not exactly a jolly profession), his father snaps on him and demands he be accountable for being "such a screw-up". His character has enough and kills himself right after asking his father if he ever loved him. His father can't say that he ever did, so he shoots himself dead.
Ledger is tremendous in this role and perhaps this was the performance he should of earned a Best Supporting Actor win for. He's also brilliant as The Joker, but that role is more of a leading man role. With a body of work only in his late- teens and 20s, Ledger obviously had a deep and dark soul to play all of the damaged characters he performed in the movies.
With the death of his son, Hank attempts to find himself for the first time. He forms a sexual relationship with Latisha (Halle Berry), someone who also lost her son recently. Together, they attempt to heel each others wounds and discover the mistakes they made inside of themselves so they can move onwards with their life.
In life I guess we all need someone to take care of us while we also take care of someone else at the same time too. It has to work both ways and it does in this unique relationship in Monster's Ball.
Monster's Ball is also a film that really pushed the directorial career of Marc Forster. He has since went on to make a few commercially successful films, including the last Bond movie Quantum of Solace. He work is in this film is outstanding as he pushes the emotional uncomfortability into the audiences inner souls without overdoing it at all.
This is a film that's light on any sort of grand speech or any big dialogue scenes for that matter. The emotions and feelings come from the two lead's expressions towards each other and the world with them saying very little. A directorial choice that's very gutsy. Sometimes directors want to hit the audience over the head with a hammer to make their point. Monster's Ball definitely doesn't do that.
Both of these characters needed to learn to love themselves. They both lose their offspring because they were living in self-hatred and that spread to their kids. It's hard for someone to live when all they see growing up is hate and no love. You can't survive in that existence. Through each other they both find their love inside of themselves.
And that's Monster's Ball. Celebrating the madness that is inside of us all and learning to love it. Because it's who we are.