Release Date: December 26, 2001
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Halle
Berry, Sean Combs, Keith
Ledger, & Peter Boyle
Runtime: 118 minutes
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Marc Forster
Executive Producer: Michael Paseornek, Michael
Burns & Mark Urman
Producer: Lee Daniels
Writer: Milo Addica & Will Rokos
Address Comments To:Tom Ortenberg, President
Lions Gate Releasing
5750 Wilshire Blvd., #501
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 692-7300
Fax: (323) 692-7373
This is a very perplexing phenomenon. After all, are there no white racist criminals or no white racist Northerners or Easterners? Are Massachusetts, Vermont and San Francisco full of nothing but “enlightened” liberals? Even more importantly, are there no racist police officers who are black or Latino? You can understand perhaps why a poor black person from the inner city might not have the wherewithal to discriminate against white people, especially rich white people, but does that mean that there are no racists among the black population in the United States at all?
The new drama MONSTER’S BALL succumbs to these superficial, politically correct stereotypes about racist white law enforcement officers in the South. The story is partly about a family of white prison guards who lead or have led the execution squad at a state prison in Georgia. The retired patriarch of the family (played by professional curmudgeon Peter Boyle of TV’s EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) is a virulent racist. His racism has infected his son, Hank, played by Billy Bob Thornton of SLING BLADE and THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE. Apparently escaping this horrible trait is Hank’s son Sonny (played by Keith Ledger of THE PATRIOT and A KNIGHT’S TALE), who has befriended their black neighbors, against Hank’s wishes. Sonny also doesn’t seem to have the stoic stomach for executions that his father and grandfather have. When Sonny gets sick while walking a black convict to his doom, Hank gets incredibly angry at him. Hank is so angry that he uses the “N” word when a fellow black officer tries to calm him down. Sonny forces his dad to say that he hates him.
A family tragedy leads Hank to quit his prison job, much to the chagrin of the grandfather. Meanwhile, Leticia, the wife of the killer that Hank and Sonny just executed, starts working at the diner where Hank likes to have black coffee and late-night bowls of chocolate ice cream. Leticia’s car has broken down, and she’s just about to be evicted from her place, so she brings her chubby son Tyrone to the restaurant. One dark and stormy night, another family tragedy brings she and Hank together. Hank shows a hesitant compassion toward Leticia and her overweight son. This compassion develops into erotic passion and eventually into a kind of love. Can this love redeem both Hank and Leticia, as well as their shattered lives?
MONSTER’S BALL is a predictable, heavy handed melodrama that tries to temper its melodrama with excellent realistic acting and a realistic shooting and editing style. These styles clash, however, which means that they are ultimately unsatisfying. The fact that there’s no real conflict after the movie’s introductory first part also presents a problem. The superficial, politically correct stereotypes in the movie don’t help matters. This is especially true of the stereotype of Hank’s father and the stereotype of Leticia’s husband, who, although he admits to being a “bad” man, is also a sensitive artist who likes to draw excellent pencil portraits of people. You just know that, eventually, Leticia’s going to discover the drawings that her husband made of his executioners, Hank and Sonny.
These trite stereotypes haven’t stopped Roger Ebert, the liberal movie critic of the Chicago Sun Times, from naming MONSTER’S BALL his top movie of 2001. Of course, this is the same critic who loved BELOVED, the awful, politically correct occult movie about slavery starring Oprah Winfrey.
All that said, MONSTER’S BALL could have been a much better movie if it had inserted some good conflict and had gotten rid of not only its mind-numbing stereotypes and foul language, but also its graphic sex scenes and explicit nudity. It’s a real crime that this movie wasn’t rated NC-17 for its pornographic scenes. These scenes add nothing to the basic story or the characters, but it appears they have kept a number of critics from falling asleep in their seats. Ultimately, these scenes demonstrate a lack of creativity on the part of the filmmakers, who could find nothing really interesting for their characters to do beyond taking out their spiritual and psychological frustrations in the bedroom (or the living room floor as in the case of one of the movie’s pornographic sex scenes).
MONSTER’S BALL also has a strong Romantic worldview. Romanticism teaches people that it is society, family or civilization, not the sinful and darkened human heart, that turns people into monsters. Thus, MONSTER’S BALL tells viewers that Hank and Leticia are basically good people, people who have had to suffer through bad social and bad family environments. Once they change their environments, their lifestyles start to improve. No marriage takes place in the story, however, so morality seems to be absent from this tale of passion, or at least absent from the personal bonds that Hank and Leticia establish.
MONSTER’S BALL is a predictable, heavy handed melodrama that tries to temper its melodrama with excellent realistic acting and a realistic shooting and editing style. These styles clash, however, which means that they are ultimately unsatisfying. The fact that there’s no real conflict after the movie’s first quarter also is bad. The superficial, politically correct stereotypes in the movie don’t help. MONSTER’S BALL also contains a strong unbiblical worldview, some strong foul language, a graphic execution scene, a violent suicide, and several steamy, somewhat pornographic sex scenes.