Monster's Ball is a 2001 American romantic drama film directed by Marc Forster, produced by Lee Daniels and written by Milo Addica and Will Rokos, who also appear in the film. It stars Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger, and Peter Boyle, with Sean Combs, Mos Def, and Coronji Calhoun in supporting roles. Thornton portrays a corrections officer who begins a relationship with a woman (Berry), unaware that she is the widow of a man (Combs) he executed.
|Directed by||Marc Forster|
|Written by||Milo Addica|
|Produced by||Lee Daniels|
Billy Bob Thornton
|Edited by||Matt Chesse|
|Music by||Asche and Spencer|
Lee Daniels Entertainment
|Distributed by||Lionsgate Films|
112 minutes (Unrated)
|Box office||$45 million|
Monster's Ball premiered at AFI Fest on November 11, 2001 and was theatrically released in the United States on February 8, 2002 by Lionsgate Films. The film received positive reviews, with critical acclaim directed at Berry and Thornton's performances and Addica and Rokos' screenplay. It was also a massive commercial success, grossing $44.9 million worldwide on a production budget of $4 million.
The film received numerous accolades and nominations, and was nominated twice at the 74th Academy Awards for Best Actress (Berry) and Original Screenplay (Addica and Rokos), with Berry winning for her performance, becoming the first and, as of 2021, the only African-American woman to win the award.
Hank Grotowski, a widower, and his son, Sonny, are white corrections officers in a prison in Louisiana. They reside with Hank's father, Buck, a bigoted retired corrections officer whose wife (Hank's mother) committed suicide. Sonny is friends with the Cooper brothers, Willie and Darryl, who are black. At the behest of Buck, Hank frightens off the brothers with a shotgun and is later confronted by their father Ryrus.
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, and is as kind to Musgrove as his duties permit. Sonny has a brief sexual encounter with a prostitute in a motel then tries to ask her on a dinner date, but she leaves.
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. Following the execution, Hank confronts Sonny in the prison's bathroom and slaps him for being so "soft" and for "ruining a man's last walk".
The next morning, 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.
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 provide a diversion in his retirement. The Coopers offer condolences to Hank, who asks which one is Willie and which one is "Harry" (mistaking Darryl's name) and is corrected politely.
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 physically and emotionally abuses the boy for his obesity. Along with her domestic problems, Leticia struggles financially, with an eviction notice on her house from her landlord Bob Ortiz. In desperate need of money, Leticia takes a job at a diner frequented by Hank. Due to lack of maintenance (which Lawrence had suggested) the car breaks down, so Leticia and Tyrell begin walking back and forth from home to the diner.
One rainy night, Leticia (having stolen an umbrella) and Tyrell are walking down a soaked highway. Hank happens to be driving along and sees Tyrell lying bloody on the ground and Leticia calling for help. After some hesitation, Hank stops, and being told Tyrell was struck by a car, he drives them to a hospital, where Tyrell is pronounced dead. 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.
Hank takes Sonny's old truck to Ryrus' auto shop and they discuss fixing it up as Ryrus' daughter Maggie plays nearby, with Hank mentioning he wanted to sell the truck, and asking if Ryrus' boys could wax it. He then offers to give the truck to Leticia, who reluctantly accepts after initial protests of discomfort.
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. He then renames the gas station "Leticia's", saying it is his girlfriend's name when asked.
Leticia is evicted from her home and Hank invites her to move in with him. She later discovers Hank's involvement in her husband's death when she finds the drawings of Sonny and Hank done by Lawrence as he awaited execution. She is upset, but is still 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.
- Billy Bob Thornton as Hank Grotowski
- Heath Ledger as Sonny Grotowski (Hank's son)
- Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove
- Peter Boyle as Buck Grotowski (Hank's dad)
- Coronji Calhoun as Tyrell Musgrove (Leticia's son)
- Sean Combs as Lawrence Musgrove (Tyrell's father)
- Mos Def as Ryrus Cooper (local mechanic)
- Charles Cowan Jr. as Willie Cooper, one of Ryrus' sons
- Taylor LaGrange as Darryl Cooper, Ryrus' other son (whom Hank thought was named 'Harry')
- Clara Infinity Daniels as Maggie Cooper, Ryrus' daughter
- Will Rokos as Warden Velesco
- Milo Addica as Tommy Roulaine
- Amber Rules as Vera
The basis for this film came from the desire of actor-turned-writers Addica and Rokos to make a script that would interest a big star alongside themselves with Harvey Keitel in mind since he liked the latter's writing when offered one of their scripts. They were inspired by their troubled relationships with their fathers as a starting point that eventually led to a generational tale about executioners, which eventually led to the inspiration for the title (an old term for the last meal of a condemned man and a "ball" that took place with his jailers the night before). They wrote the script over a period of eight months over the course of 1995 that eventually inspired a bit of interest through a producer of a film Rokos had acted in. Years of development occurred due to interest from filmmakers ranging from Robert DeNiro to Oliver Stone along with studios that wanted a lighter ending, but the transition to Lee Daniels and Lionsgate led to interest back to the original ending. The film was produced by Lionsgate and Lee Daniels Entertainment, the first production for the latter.
Principal photography began in May 2001 in New Orleans, Louisiana and lasted for five weeks. A week before production, Combs auditioned for the role of Lawrence Musgrove, and won it. At one point, the production moved to the fields, cellblocks and death houses of Louisiana State Penitentiary for a week to shoot prison interiors and exteriors, with some scenes shot in actual death chambers.
The film received mostly positive reviews, with Berry's performance being widely acclaimed. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 121 of 143 reviews were positive, giving the film a score of 85% with an average rating of 7.34/10, and was certified "Fresh". The site's critical consensus states, "Somber and thought provoking, Monster's Ball has great performances all around." On Metacritic, the film received a 69 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and rated it as the best film of 2001, stating that it "has the complexity of great fiction". Ebert also praised the performances of Berry and Thornton, saying, "[Thornton] and [Berry] star as Hank and Leticia, in two performances that are so powerful because they observe the specific natures of these two characters, and avoid the pitfalls of racial cliches. What a shock to find these two characters freed from the conventions of political correctness, and allowed to be who they are: weak, flawed, needful, with good hearts tested by lifetimes of compromise." Of the screenplay, Ebert wrote, "The screenplay by [Addica] and [Rokos] is subtle and observant; one is reminded of short fiction by Andre Dubus, William Trevor, Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver. It specifically does not tell "their" story, but focuses on two separate lives. The characters are given equal weight, and have individual story arcs, which do not intersect but simply, inevitably, meet."
Ben Falk of BBC.com spoke highly of Berry and Thornton's performances, writing, "This is by far Berry's best-ever performance and Thornton reminds us that there are few, if any, leading men who can convey sadness and hope almost simultaneously in just one minimal glance."
On a negative review, Jeffrey Chan of Rescue Fantasy complimented the performances, but was critical of the script, writing, "Unfortunately, too many things bothered me so that I could not buy in to the movie. I didn't buy the idea that both Hank and Leticia needed each other -- Leticia needs Hank, but I got the feeling that Hank would've fared just fine (albeit less happily) without Leticia. If I wasn't supposed to see Hank as needing Leticia, then the movie would simply become a demeaning man-saves-woman story. I was also skeptical of the notion that sex heals wounds as well as it clearly does for these two characters." He finished off his review by saying, "Monster's Ball really isn't as offensive as I'm making it sound, but it had enough problems to trouble me to the point where I can't wholeheartedly recommend it. It may be worth seeing for the acting alone. It's a two-person show, with [Thornton] turning in another strong performance and [Berry] breaking out and showing her range. If you're a fan of either or both of these two, you'll be quite happy with the movie. Outside of that, I make no guarantees -- unless you just really enjoy your share of rescue fantasies"
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Halle Berry made history as the first black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Monster's Ball. The film featured an intense anal sex scene between Berry and costar Billy Bob Thornton.
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