Shiny Shelf

Monster’s Ball

By Eddie Robson on 10 November 2002

After taking a surprise Oscar for Halle Berry’s performance, it seemed to take an age for Monster’s Ball to come out in Britain and when it did, it didn’t make that much of an impact. What I was expecting was a worthy drama about very American issues, the sort of thing that plays well in the States, which the Oscar panel loves and which falls flat everywhere else.

I was pleasantly surprised. It does deal with particularly American issues – capital punishment and interracial relationships – but it isn’t the heavy-handed, TV movie-style treatment that I’d feared. From what I’d heard it was about a Southern States bigot being redeemed by his relationship with a black woman, but it isn’t that simple. It’s actually about Thornton’s ex-death row warder, Hank, and Berry’s single mother, Leticia, discovering that they need each other: their relationship is forged on that, and in the end they both save each other in different ways.

It isn’t the easiest film to watch, because it’s very slow-moving and often depressing. We see three generations of males in the Grotowski family: Hank is in the middle, between his weak-willed, relatively liberal son (Heath Ledger) and his overbearing, judgmental, incredibly bigoted father (Peter Boyle). We can see the traits of both in Hank and it’s a relief when he starts to shake off his father’s influence: most of all, he needs to shake off his racist tendencies and his inability to relate to women. He does manage this through his relationship with Leticia, but it doesn’t feel heartening in the way that it might because they have both been through so much tragedy on the way there.

I must say that I do prefer my movies to have more humour in them that this: there’s room for it in even the bleakest situation and it doesn’t have to detract from the impact of the drama. However, it turned out to be worthy in a good way rather than a bad way and I’m glad I’ve seen it. I’m not sure I’d really want to watch it again, so I’m not sure that I could recommend the DVD to buy: maybe it’s one to wait for on TV.

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By Eddie Robson

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