Monster’s Ball

A super-downer of a drama starring Billy Bob Thornton as a guard on Georgia's death row and Halle Berry as the widow of the prisoner (Sean "Puffy" Combs) most recently sent to Georgia's electric chair. You can tell even from the ads that Thornton and Berry are going to hook up eventually, so it's a little to the story's detriment that it takes so long to get to that inevitable moment.

Even more to the story's detriment is the plot device inherent to this setup: you just know there's going to be a scene in which Berry finally discovers that Thornton knew her late husband, and I for one wished the screenwriters (Milo Addica and Will Rokos) could have gotten this out of the way early on, so that we could have focused on the characters without having to wait for the other shoe to drop.

As the star-crossed lovers, Berry puts in a fine performance as the frustrated widow, and Thornton is once again excellent as a man slowly awakening to his own tenderness. But they are done an injustice by being plunked in the middle of so much ridiculous melodrama.

The way the story is structured, the only way these two lost souls will ever meet is if fate deals them a few tragic blows. So we get one, then another, then another, and by the time of the film's fourth or fifth tragic event (all taking place, apparently, within the space of a couple months) it becomes just too ludicrous to believe. Yet the film takes itself completely seriously.

Despite lots of nice Southern atmosphere (thanks to Roberto Schaefer's cinematography and Monroe Kelly's production design) and a fairly titillating sex scene or two, Monster's Ball's relentless grimness is almost laughable.