The story is about Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) who is an embittered prison guard working on Death Row who begins an unlikely but emotionally charged affair with Leticia (Halle Berry), the wife of a man under his watch on The Row.
For the first hour or so, nothing was going right for me with this flick. I knew that it was going to be a slow-ass flick right from the start but the film barely felt like it was moving at all. It has this very dark and depressing feeling to it right from the start, which will kind of throw you back a bit but somehow, somewhere there was happiness and hope in this story, and then it suddenly started to grow on me. Damn Billy Bob!
I think the main reason why this flick got better in the way that it did was because of its script. This a very character-based flick that focuses on these gritty, dirty, and sad people that all need something in their life, whether it be love, family, or just a nice little bang here and there. The script just feels very human in the way how everybody deals with their problems and it’s also one of the rare cases where the the screenplay decides to take a step back from actually having non-stop talking but focus more on the quiet side of this story which spoke louder to me than any of the racist crap Frank Barone was saying here.
The problem with this flick is that I don’t think the direction here from Marc Forster does the script justice. Take it for granted, there isn’t anything really flashy here done by Forster to get in the way of the material at-hand but he feels very unfocused. There will be moments where it focuses on this nice romance between Billy Bob and Halle, then will go towards the racism she faces, then towards the fact that she has little or no money, and then it will go right to Billy Bob being sad about something. There were too many times where I feel like the film constantly brought up all of these other things that these characters were feeling, which in all honesty, were definitely not as interesting as the romance between Berry and Billy Bob, especially when they start boning in everybody’s favorite sexy time scene.
Where the flick did work was at the center of it all: the romance. The romance between these two feels subtle and something that would happen between two 8th-graders almost but then it really turns into something serious, heart-breaking, and very very real. I liked this romance that these two had going on because it showed just how much they needed each other at a certain time in their lives and even though they both may not be the same person, they still feel hurt and need someone or something to take their pain and anguish away. However, whenever they are on-screen together, you can feel the romance and deep-down inside, was this sweet little love they had going on which really worked for me.
Halle Berry won the Oscar here for Best Actress and even though I can’t recall seeing any of the other performances from that year, I have to say that I think the Academy made the right decision. Berry lets it all hang loose as Leticia. She’s sad, vulnerable, full of pain, anger, remorse, but also very optimistic for the future and feels like a very real person when it comes to how she wants to be treated. Berry is a very stunning chicky but she lets the grit take over here and she dives into this character without any fake steps. Her emotions are almost all-over-the-place but Berry makes us sympathize with this character and actually feel something for her no matter what. Amazing performance from Berry and one that truly did deserve the Oscar.
Billy Bob Thornton was pretty good here as Hank, even though when he is being compared to Berry, his character is definitely the one you least remember. It’s not that this is a bad performance by any means, it’s just that Billy Bob isn’t really doing anything other than playing sort of a dick that somehow changes half-way through, even though we don’t really realize it until his own daddy brings it up. Speaking of his daddy, Peter Boyle is quite good as the totally racist dad, even though it was kind of funny watching him spout out the N-word left and right; Heath Ledger is also good in this flick as Hank’s son, Sonny, and is very chilling every time he is on-screen; and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs does a nice job as Lawrence, Leticia’s husband, and doesn’t really over-play any of the lines like rappers-turned-actors usually do.
Consensus: Despite a slow beginning and feel to the film, Monster’s Ball starts to pick up with a very sweet romance in the middle of the story, great performances from the cast, especially Berry, and a script that doesn’t try too hard but still is able to make us feel something for these characters.