ROVIN' AND RAVIN' WITH MIKE
Copyright © 2002 by Michael Segers, All rights reserved
Somehow, over the years the expression ďadult
movieĒ has taken on a decidedly unpleasant connotation.
Let it be known that at last, with Monsterís Ball we have
(at the very end of 2001, but it wonít be widely released until 2002) a
decidedly adult film in all the best possible senses of those words.
I canít remember when Iíve seen a film with four such consistently
strong performances, performances inspired by a script that is constantly full
of surprises, not in a mechanical, over-the-top way, but as an inevitable
unfolding of events in lives lived beyond inevitability.
For all its brutal realities, Monsterís Ball is a
subtle glimpse of just what filmmaking can be.
Iíll even say, should be. There
are so many possibilities for stereotypes, for predictability, in this tale of a
white racist prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) attracted to a black woman (Halle
Berry) whose husband (Sean ďPuffyĒ Combs, a real surprise) he has recently
executed that I just kept waiting for a disaster which never happened.
The title, by the way, refers to a custom
that Hank mentions of having a party for the condemned man the night before his
execution. No matter what one
can say about Hank, he has a grudging respect for the protocol of execution.
When his son cannot follow that protocol, a terrible series of events
begins that leads to the death of Sonny and to Hank quitting his job.
Another family, that of the executed man, his wife Leticia (Berry) and
their son (Coronji Calhoun), mirrors the horrors of Hankís family.
Two flawed and grieving people, Leticia and Hank, happen to meet, and the
terrible stories of their two families (I wish I could say more without giving
away things) overlap. Although I
feel that Thorntonís work in The Man Who Wasnít There was more of a
stretch for him, what he accomplishes in this film is nothing to be ashamed of.
All four of the main actorsóas well as Ledger and Calhoun in
exquisitely realized minor rolesócreate stunning characterizations
as well as an ensemble as distinctive for its tension as for its cohesion.
In the script of Monsterís Ball,
Addica and Will Rokos somehow create spaces for the actors to do their work,
unfettered by words. Perhaps
you need to know that there are two sex scenes in this film, but they are two of
the saddest scenes Iíve ever seen in a film.
One, near the beginning, is so abrupt that some people in the theater
with me laughed, but as the film unwinds, it is given poignancy as a stark
emblem of Sonnyís emptiness and lovelessness.
The other, between Berry and Thornton is almost too long, as the two
deeply wounded characters explore each otherís psyches through their bodies.
The scene ultimately is about despair, not titillation.
But, I canít help but wonder if our society would deal with a similar
scene between, say, Samuel L. Jackson and Meg Ryan, as I reflect on the sad
suggestions about race and sex in this film.
I felt almost physical discomfort at times
in this film, and I donít mean the discomfort of squirming through a boring
film. I just wanted these people to
quit hurting so badly. Director
Marc Foster has taken a real monster in hand and perhaps hasnít tamed it so
much as restrained it, keeping its strange, sad energy under control.