Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie – Monster’s Ball (2001)

Nowadays the film Monster’s Ball is probably best remembered for “the sex scene”.  It involved Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton and there was no Austin Powers like goofiness with objects blocking our view (unlike many films with major stars in them).  Both Berry and Thornton committed to the scene and the film.  Almost inevitably the scene was censored in the U.S. in order to get an R rating, but was released as is around the rest of the planet.  The thing is, there’s a lot more to this movie than just a sex scene.  In fact, this is the film for which Berry won the Best Actress Oscar.

Thornton and last minute replacement Heath Ledger play father and son death row prison guards.  Their names are Hank and Sonny.  They have a pretty poor relationship, stemming from the fact that Hank and his father Buck (Peter Boyle) hate each other’s guts.  Buck is also very racist – a tendency Hank shares, although not to his father’s degree.  It’s more that Hank pretty much hates everyone, black and white, father and son.  If you had any illusions about this being a happy family movie, this should have gotten rid of them.

On death row is Lawrence Musgrove (a miscast Sean Combs – yes, that Sean Combs).  He’s the only real big flaw in the film.  His character doesn’t last long, though.  While taking him to be executed Sonny breaks down and can’t stand it.  Hank berates him for being too sensitive.  Everything comes to a head at home with Sonny confronting Hank with a gun, making him admit that he’s always hated his son.  It should surprise no one that the too sensitive Sonny doesn’t have a happy ending.

Hank quits his job and starts hanging out at a diner.  Who should happen to come in but Leticia (Berry), Lawrence’s widow.  She has her son with her.  While walking home from the diner one night the son is struck by another vehicle.  Hank stops to help, but the son dies.  Hank and Leticia had spoken to each other before, but now with a common loss (their sons) they bond.  Eventually it leads to the sex scene that so many people talked about afterwards.

Buck is livid that his son is dating a black woman and even tries to poison Leticia against Hank when the two meet.  It’s also not long before Hank figures out Leticia is the widow of the last man he executed in prison.  Think that will be a potential issue in their relationship?  A Hallmark movie, this is not.

I’m now going to talk about the final scene in the film because of how it relates to Berry’s Oscar win, so if you haven’t watched the movie, you may want to skip down below this spoiler section.


I mentioned that Halle Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for this role.  Part of that stems from committing to the role and doing the unglamorous character with nudity, but I believe it is mostly due to her final scene in the film.

Her character has discovered that Hank was a guard who was with her husband when he was put to death.  She doesn’t leave, though.  She’s there waiting for him outside on the steps.  Watch her face.  There’s a series of emotions that pass over it, from hatred, to fear, to love, to wonderment, to forgiveness, to contentment.  Without saying a thing you see her considering a number of different responses to Hank returning, from screaming, to hating him, to crying, to confronting him, etc. 

She finally just opts for not even telling him she knows – for just being with him and moving forward with a good relationship.  And again, this all happens over only a few seconds and plays out on her face.


Monster’s Ball can be a tough film to watch in places.  If you’re only watching it to see the famous sex scene then skip the movie and just watch the scene online.  If, however, you want to see Berry’s performance and judge for yourself then I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. This is a really raw film--and not just because of the infamous sex scene. Peter Boyle is absolutely phenomenal as the racist father. I'm not a big fan of either Berry or Thornton, but they were both great in this.

    1. They certainly didn't hold back with Boyle's character, did they? Some people probably wanted to see something worse happen to him, but I remember laughing at his situation at the end.

  2. Nice review here. That final scene really is something. I love when a film just stands back and lets the actor display emotional expression like that. Berry really nailed it. And I've always been very taken with Ledger's work in the film. Very pleased that he was able to take over for Wes Bentley.

    1. Thanks. This was during the time when Ledger was still establishing himself after first making a splash in 10 Things I Hate About You.