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Monster's Ball is a 2001 American romantic drama film directed by Marc Forster, written by Milo Addica and Will Rokos as an original screenplay, and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger, Peter Boyle, Sean Combs, and Mos Def. The film tells the story of a widowed corrections officer, his adult son, and widowed father, all of whom work as executioners in the state prison. The main character befriends, and then begins a relationship with, a woman who turns out to be the widow of a man he executed.[1]

Monster's Ball
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMarc Forster
Produced byLee Daniels
Written byMilo Addica
Will Rokos
StarringBilly Bob Thornton
Halle Berry
Heath Ledger
Peter Boyle
Sean Combs
Mos Def
Music byAsche and Spencer
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Edited byMatt Chesse
Lee Daniels Entertainment
Distributed byLions Gate Films
Release date
  • November 11, 2001 (2001-11-11) (AFI Fest)
  • February 8, 2002 (2002-02-08)
Running time
111 minutes
112 minutes (Unrated)
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million
Box office$44.9 million

Berry received overwhelming acclaim for her performance, earning her, among other awards, the Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first African-American woman to win the Oscar in that category, and the only African-American actress to win that award as of 2019.



Hank Grotowski, a widower, and his son, Sonny, are correctional officers in a prison in Georgia. They reside with Hank's ailing father, Buck, a bigoted, cold-hearted retired correctional officer whose wife (Hank's mother) died by suicide.

Hank, the prison's deputy warden, will oversee the execution of convicted murderer Lawrence Musgrove. Musgrove, a talented amateur artist, draws a sketch of Sonny. Sonny is a shy and gentle person, who is as kind to Musgrove as his duties permit. Sonny has a brief sexual encounter with a prostitute in a motel and is so lonely that he tries to ask her on a dinner date, but she leaves immediately.

The night before the execution, Hank tells Sonny that a "Monster's Ball" is held by the corrections officers, a get-together of those who will participate in the execution. The proceedings prove too much for Sonny, who, as he is leading Lawrence to the electric chair, vomits, and then collapses. Hank confronts Sonny in the prison's bathroom afterwards and slaps him for being so "soft" and for "ruining a man's last walk".

After Hank attacks Sonny in his bed and orders him to leave the house, Sonny grabs a revolver from under his pillow and holds his father at gunpoint. The confrontation ends in their living room with Hank sitting on the carpet, and Sonny in Buck's customary chair. Sonny asks his father if he hates him. After his father calmly confirms that he does, and always has, Sonny responds, "Well, I always loved you," and shoots himself in the chest, dying instantly.

Hank buries Sonny in the back garden with an abbreviated funeral because, as Buck comments, "He was weak." Hank subsequently resigns as deputy warden, burns his uniform in the backyard, and locks the door of Sonny's room. He purchases a local gas station in an attempt to find common ground with his father, and to provide a diversion in his retirement.

During the years of Lawrence's imprisonment leading up to his execution, his wife, Leticia, has been struggling while raising their son, Tyrell, who has inherited his father's artistic talent. She abusively berates the boy regarding his obesity. Along with her domestic problems, Leticia struggles financially, leading to the loss of the family car, as well as an eviction notice on her house. In desperate need of money, Leticia takes a job at a diner frequented by Hank.

One rainy night, Leticia and Tyrell are walking down a soaked highway, when Tyrell is struck by a car. Hank happens to be driving along and sees the two. After some hesitation, Hank drives them to a hospital, where Tyrell dies upon arrival. At the suggestion of the authorities at the hospital, Hank drives Leticia home. A few days later, Hank gives Leticia another ride home from the diner. They begin talking in the car about their common losses, and she invites him in. Hank finds out that Leticia is Lawrence's widow, though he does not tell her that he participated in her husband's execution. They drown their grief with alcohol and have sex.

Leticia stops by Hank's home with a present for him, but he is not there. She meets Buck, who insults her and implies that Hank is only involved with her because he enjoys sex with black women. Leticia, affected by the remarks, refuses to interact with Hank. After Hank is made aware of Buck's actions, he forces his father out of the house and into a nursing home.

Leticia is evicted from her home for non-payment of rent, and Hank invites her to move in with him. She later discovers Hank's involvement in her husband's death when she finds the drawing of Sonny done by Lawrence as he awaited execution. She is upset, but is there waiting for him when he returns from town with ice cream. The film ends with the two of them eating ice cream together on the back porch, content with each other.



Louisiana State Penitentiary served as a filming location.

The film was produced by Lionsgate and Lee Daniels Entertainment.


The film received mostly positive reviews, with Berry's performance being widely acclaimed. Review website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 121 of 142 reviews were positive, giving a score of 85% and a certification of "Fresh".[2] The site's critical consensus states, "Somber and thought provoking, Monster's Ball has great performances all around."

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and stated that, "The movie has the complexity of great fiction"[3] listing it as the best film of 2001.

On Metacritic, the film received a 69 out of 100. This indicates "generally favorable reviews".


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Brooks, Libby (June 3, 2002). "'Now I'm really at the party'". The Guardian.
  2. ^ "Monster's Ball Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
  3. ^ "Monster's Ball :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times (February 1, 2002). Retrieved March 27, 2011

External linksEdit