Movies We Like
It is a treat and a privilege to see the work of actors and directors that are versatile and consistent. Director Marc Forster has had an interesting approach to portraying damage within people, families, and romantic relationships. In movies like Stay, The Kite Runner, and Finding Neverland, we can see examples of his attempts to unify an audience with stories and feelings that no one is exempt from. But when Monster’s Ball was presented, featuring an extraordinary cast and controversial subject matter, I was more than eager to see what all the buzz was about. To say that it did not disappoint would be an understatement.
The story seems simple: two strangers meet and become romantically involved. But here is the not so simple part. Halle Berry gives an Oscar-winning performance as Leticia, a waitress who lives on the brink of eviction with her son who has a lifelong struggle with obesity. Her ex-husband Lawrence, wonderfully played by Sean Combs, is within 72 hours of execution on death row. Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank, a corrections officer specializing in assisting prisoners on death row and currently is assisting Lawrence’s last days. He lives with his son Sonny (Heath Ledger), who is also in the same profession, and his father (Peter Boyle) who retired from the same profession. His life circulates with racism, ritual, unease, bitterness, and abuse. The two meet in the most unconventional way when Leticia’s son is struck during a hit-and-run and Hank later witnesses them in distress and escorts them to the hospital where the boy is pronounced dead. From there a consuming and aggressive romance begins to unfold.
There simply is no competition for a film that touches on the complexity of a biracial relationship. Movies like Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever certainly try but are so stylized that they either go over the top or fail to address why its characters are breaking the norm in order to connect. They oftentimes portray the desire coming from a sense of taboo curiosity rather than substance and usually end in the couple breaking up. Monster’s Ball gives you nothing else to focus on except the pain and awkwardness of these characters. No soundtrack. No comic relief, and really, no one else to focus on except the couple. Within the first quarter of the movie, Hank loses his son as well and by the end, the only point of view you see are Hank and Leticia’s.
Though both Thornton and Berry give some of the best performances of their careers, the entire cast is sure to impress. Given only brief parts, Peter Boyle, Sean Combs, Heath Ledger, and Mos Def portray roles that are so good and essential to the plot that they needed to be removed quickly. Without removal I’m sure they would have shone just as brightly as the leading roles, which ultimately would have been a welcome distraction.
This film is practically flawless, equipped with a clarity and individuality that Forster and the cast produced with hard work and bravery. Hands down one of the truest, most unflinching love stories in cinema today. Highly Recommended!
Monster's Ball won one Oscar for Best Acress (Halle Berry) and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (Milo Addica and Will Rokos).