Monster's Ball

In the Oscar sweeps, you don't want to forget Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry in a rubbed-raw drama that the word offbeat doesn't begin to encapsulate. Thornton plays Hank, a guard on death-row duty at Georgia State Penitentiary. At home, Hank's sick dad (Peter Boyle), a retired guard, sucks oxygen and spits redneck bigotry. Hank's son, Sonny (a de-glammed Heath Ledger), shares guard duty with Dad and also the same tired hooker, whom they both bang standing up.ice, huh? Director Marc Forster and screenwriters Milo Addica and Will Rokos turn up the tension when Hank and Sonny supervise the execution of Lawrence Musgrove (a strong, understated Sean Combs), an event that catapults the film into shocking new directions. No fair telling more, except that Hank quits his job and takes up with the dead man's waitress wife, Leticia (Berry), a hard case not above beating her grossly overweight son, Tyrell (the excellent Coronji Calhoun), when he sneaks candy.

The wham-bam sex scene between Thornton and Berry is already notorious, so it's a wrench when the film takes a tender turn and becomes the year's unlikeliest love story. The actors make it unique and unforgettable. Thornton, already having a great year with The Man Who Wasn't There and Bandits, simmers with dark fire. And Berry — playing against type in the performance to beat among actresses this year — is volcanic. You can't take your eyes off them.

From The Archives Issue 887: January 17, 2002