Monster's Ball (USA; 111min.)

directed by: Marc Forster
starring: Billy Bob Thornton; Halle Berry; Peter Boyle; Heath Ledger
Shiqi sui de dan che
Diane says: "I liked MONSTER'S BALL a lot; perhaps it helped that I didn't know more than a couple of plot points. The story was much more than I had expected: the death row story, the three generations, the love relationship all had enough time. Many claimed it moved too slowly, but I thought the pacing was fine--you got to notice a lot of things (like the 'head-scratching details' as Laura called them).

"Halle Berry deserved 'Best Actress'--I'm thinking of her looking at Hank in his car as he makes himself vulnerable just before she asks him in, for instance--a lot happening on that face. Was this a potential Chlo nominee for this year? I would have nom'ed Sean Combs for best supporting.I find Billy Bob appealing in just about everything; this role allows him to play himself quite a bit (e.g., the drinking scene) but I don't mind that. Neither can I blame him for not getting across the changes in his character that stretch credulity. Like, where would someone in that family have ever learned compassion? One wonders what the screenwriters thought about Hank....

"It didn't seem to me that Hank went from racist to liberal, but rather that he stopped accepting his father's lead. My favorite scene marking his change was when he said to the two neighbor boys, 'Which one of you is Willie and which one's Darryl?' I think that showed that the anger and hatred he showed to them was mostly an exterior put on for his father's sake. Through the film, Hank's virulent racism diminishes, but some kind of personal sexism/racism still raises its head as he determines for Letitia what's best for her.

"Those bird-in-the-cage shots sure seemed out of place to me in the otherwise realistic style.

"The ending: I was surprised--I expected Letitia to come out and shoot him."
Ellen says: "I thought some of the dialogue was hackneyed, but the performances were great - both Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry (and Peter Boyle in his supporting role). I agree with Marilyn that Billy Bob's character does sort of take a sudden turn, but I wasn't bothered by it for some reason. I also thought the soundtrack was very effective which I didn't realize until the end of the film." 3 1/2 cats
Hilary says: "One of the most stunning things about the film is the stark contrast between the quality of the visuals and the incredibly bleak story. The prison, the dusty roads, the stuffy old house that 'Hank' (Billy Bob Thornton) and his family live in are all beautiful, as seen through the eye of the cinematographer. I think the visual impact and symbolism that Forster was attempting in EVERYTHING PUT TOGETHER fell flat and at times became heavy-handed and downright corny, but were strikingly present in BALL.

"Thornton follows up his excellent performance in THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE with another role that appears written for him. (From what I know of Thornton, much of 'Hanks' characteristics and background aren't too far from his own. For instance, I couldn't help laughing over his standing order of chocolate ice cream with a PLASTIC spoon, as I know he has many food [among other] phobias.) I was also thoroughly impressed by Halle Berry -- this was the first time I'd seen her offer a full range of emotions, and she certainly wasn't afraid to delve into raw and ugly realities of life contained within the story. Must also mention the strong supporting cast, including Peter Boyle as Hank's father and Heath Ledger as Hank's son, rounding out his disfunctional family.

"The 'controversial' sex scene that has been so heavily discussed was one of the saddest moments I've ever seen portrayed on film; so heavy with desperate, awful need. Yes, it was somewhat graphic, but it was the emotional content more than the nudity or actions that got to me."
Laura says: "I was really looking forward to MONSTER'S BALL after Forster's flawed but admirable debut EVERYTHING PUT TOGETHER. Unfortunately, I didn't see much progression and overall found this one to be a disappointment. Halle Berry's terrific, though, and the film's certainly worthwhile." 3 cats
For Laura's complete review: ""
Marilyn says: " I just saw this and had a somewhat different response although perhaps because of everything I read, my expectations were either too high or too specific, neither being met......I thought this was a good movie, not great so maybe my expectations were too high....the only thing that met my expectaions was Halle Berry....she showed an ability to convey anger, sadness, pain, and even confusion without words and very little is the oscar performance. However, Billy Bob has done this same show now about three times.....(once in black and white) which raises an issue of depth in his acting. The movie over-all did not have the "edge" I expected. For someone raised with just bias and ugliness, he took a 180 degree turn (without any show of emotion...even a twitch in his face or a quiver in his lip) and became an immediate liberal. He did not appear to question this, have second thoughts, or a worry about his place in the community...I could understand his not caring about his father, (the one other beautifully acted role in the movie by Peter Boyle) but everyone in the community....not very realistic. And the turning point in the film...??..the son, the other son, or the sex...?? Not clear or well done by Thornton...I felt a more pollyanna feel in this than I think should have been there...It all looked too simple for Billie while Hallie showed her race...her life...and her fears....she was really good. It is not as some have claimed, the best movie of the year, but it is good."
Michael says: "I must agree with Laura, that after his intriguing debut, EVERYTHING PUT TOGETHER, Forster's follow-up is a bit of a disappointment. Overall I would give the film a positive review, but it just didn't have the immediacy or power of his previous film. The performances were strong, particularly Halle Berry, as has been noted elsewhere, but I found the storytelling to fall a little flat.

"Forster makes good use of sound and music, as he did in EVERYTHING PUT TOGETHER. It struck me how much the resolution of a film can really color my opinion of the movie as a whole. As in Hal Hartley's SIMPLE MEN, MONSTERS BALL 'S conclusion is transcendant, lifting the rest of the film to a much loftier level. The final moments of the film were truly glorious, and I sat dumbfounded at the purity of Berry's performance in the final scene. I had been thinking earlier how lackluster much of the film was, but the ending really pulled all the strands together beautifully, and for me, at least, quite surprisingly.

"All-in-all, definitely a film worth seeing, although not the tour de force I'd been expecting." 3 cats
Robin says: "With the exception of Berry's intense performance, the tone of the film is emotionally minimalist. There is a slow, deliberate, plodding pace - with long pauses in dialog before a static camera - that puts me in mind of David Lynch's films. The difference is that the latter is able to keep you intrigued, waiting, so to speak, for the other shoe to drop. Helmer Marc Forster doesn't have the masterly control of Lynch to be able to sustain the low-key playing of MONSTER'S BALL. There is a sense of "c'mon, let's get on with it" as each scene slowly plays out. There are solid, intense high points to the film, but the minimalism predominates too much." 3 cats
For Robin's complete review: ""