THE MEDIA claimed racism was over in Hollywood when Halle Berry won the Oscar for best actress for her role in Monster's Ball. But, just as in the film, the story isn't that simple. Monster's Ball is set in America's Deep South. It is presented as a film about racism. It sets out to portray racism, violence and also how the spiral of violence can be broken.
Honest accounts of the brutality of institutions and the family are presented. Hank Grotowski is a white racist prison guard working on death row. He follows in the footsteps of his cantankerous father, Buck. At first it seems Hank has absorbed all his father's bad qualities. Hank's son, Sonny, is the one person who could stop the cycle of hatred in this family.
The relationship between father and son is tragically tested to the limit when Lawrence Musgrove, played by Sean Coombs, is sent to the electric chair. By chance Hank meets Lawrence's widow, Leticia, played by Halle Berry. Neither one is aware at first that they are connected by Lawrence. They are slowly drawn closer together by the tragedy of their circumstances.
While this is a good film, it fails to deal satisfactorily with all the questions that it raises. Hank's sudden conversion from an intolerant bigot to someone capable of having an intimate relationship with a black woman is unconvincing. This is partly because Monster's Ball doesn't deal with why people hold racist ideas, and how these ideas are influenced and changed.
Monster's Ball is an emotionally charged depiction of the issues of race and the intricacies of the family. The film is well made, with some engaging characters and dialogue. But don't mistake it for a hard-hitting anti-racist film.