Monster's Ball [2001]

Genre: Drama, Romance
The unflinching realism and searing performances of Monster's Ball are stunning in all the connotations of the word. Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) and Leticia (Halle Berry) inhabit stark, queasy realities of the contemporary South, he as a death row corrections officer and she as the soon-to-be widow of an inmate (Sean Combs) whose execution Hank helps conduct. In the aftermath of the execution, both lose their children to tragic deaths and they form an unlikely bond. In the hands of lesser participants, the fateful plot might strain credibility and seem tailored to allow for liberal sermonizing about the obvious wrongs of our legal justice system, but director Marc Forster and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer balance the contentious nature of the film's issues--the death penalty, racism both overt and subtle, interracial couples--with a flawless attention to character and visual detail that completely convinces. The moral ambiguity of both central characters is given full voice as our sympathy is drawn out reluctantly at first but all the more resolutely in the end. Thornton draws from seemingly limitless resources to deliver yet another outstanding performance, but it is Halle Berry who is a revelation as she sustains throughout the complex tenor of brutality witnessed and raw courage defined. --Fionn Meade

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