Surprisingly dull, “Monster’s Ball” is a very obvious and ultra-slow family drama about racism, repeating mistakes of one’s father, bad luck in life and the need for comfort. Its a depressing film but its meant to be so – scenes are done without any formality or flair which gives the whole film a very desolate, poor and downtrodden look which certainly isn’t a good advertisement for Georgia. In fact any film which can make its big raunchy sex scene feel awkward and anything but sexy is just too self-absorbed in its depression for my book. Aside from some marquee name actors, there’s nothing separating this from a dud Hallmark TV movie – bad subtext included (I mean the hands in the birdcage flashes during the sex – c’mon!!).
The actors however are what save this from becoming a total mess. Berry gives a surprisingly very natural and affecting performance with material which really gets to stretch her range as she plays a woman pushed through some very hard events throughout the film. Also doing surprisingly well is Heath Ledger with very little screen time as the role of the son who doesn’t want to end up like his father. Billy Bob Thornton on the other hand does his usual stand, look dour and insert LONG gaps between sentences dialogue – it worked in “The Man Who Wasn’t There” but here it just seems trite – hell as much as “Bandits” wasn’t that great at least he showed off a little range. Here the only other mood he’s in is redneck anger and pushing around family members which doesn’t seem much of a stretch for him. Its basically what you’ve come to expect.
‘Monsters’ is a very schizophrenic film. Aside from some bad contrivances such as the link between Berry and Thornton in regards to the husband, other elements are just cliche whether it be the grandfather who “hates ‘dem ni–ers” to the chocolate ice cream love of Thornton’s character. Yet every now and then the film surprises you, whether it be the sudden and unexpected tragedies, or the more hopeful and overall better second half of the film which thankfully is not only warmer but the message it tries to convey is done with more subtlety – yet still packs a punch. There’s no doubting this is a film with fine performances in general and powerfully emotional themes which lead to a warm and hopeful ending, but its a hard slog getting there and one for only the most patient of movie goers.