27 July 2002 | FlickJunkie-2
Halle Berry's shining moment
Independent filmmaking is alive and well and evident in Monster's Ball. This film had a minuscule $4 million budget, a terrific script and a director not afraid to take some risks. Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry practically donated their time they were paid so little. The result is a powerful and disturbing film that walked off with a boatload of awards, not the least of which was a best actress Oscar for Berry.
Director Marc Forster conjures a forceful presentation with stark sets, next to nothing in the way of props and other set decoration, and a non existent soundtrack. Forster does it with innovative use of the camera, sharp editing and most importantly excellent actor direction. Forster could have done better at character development and the ending is nebulous and unsatisfying, but these shortcomings can be partially forgiven for the films many assets.
This is an actors' showcase, with outstanding performances all around. Heath Ledger makes a short but intense appearance as the son that Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) despises. Ledger pumps the character full of repressed anger and disappointment, simultaneously resenting him and seeking his father's approval. Peter Boyle is despicable as Hank's bigoted and self centered father. Billy Bob Thornton delivers his best performance since `Sling Blade' with a complex character torn between his prejudices and his attraction to Leticia (Halle Berry).
Of course the big story here is Halle Berry. Berry shows once again that she is not just another pretty face. I first took serious notice of her after seeing her performance in `Introducing Dorothy Dandridge', a little seen TV movie in which she won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy. After that marvelous dramatic performance, I was surprised that she couldn't land roles any better than `Swordfish' and `X-Men', which tapped nothing more substantial than her looks.
In this film, Berry is sexy and alluring, but these are only incidental attributes. She displays a full range of emotions from vibrant elation and unbridled passion, to utter despondency. She practically rips her heart out and throws it at the camera. She can convey volumes with a single look, or come completely unglued with equal impact. Her Oscar for this performance was richly deserved and had nothing to do with her race as so many have rationalized. She just flat out won it going away. As good as Nicole Kidman was in `Moulin Rouge', it wasn't even close.
This is an excellent film that is worth seeing for the acting alone. I rated it a 9/10. It is a compelling and deeply disturbing drama that serious film lovers will surely enjoy.