Monster's Ball

Monster's Ball
Monster's Ball

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Marc Forster
Produced by Lee Daniels
Written by Milo Addica
Will Rokos
Starring Billy Bob Thornton
Halle Berry
Heath Ledger
Peter Boyle
Sean Combs
Music by Asche and Spencer
Cinematography Roberto Schaefer
Editing by Matt Chesse
Studio Lee Daniels Entertainment
Distributed by Lionsgate
Release date(s) November 11, 2001 (2001-11-11) (AFI Fest)
February 8, 2002 (2002-02-08)
Running time 111 minutes
112 minutes (Unrated)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million
Box office $44,909,486

Monster's Ball is a 2001 romantic drama film directed by Marc Forster, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, and Heath Ledger, and written by Milo Addica and Will Rokos. It was produced by Lionsgate and Lee Daniels Entertainment.

The title comes from the custom in medieval England of calling prisoners awaiting execution "monsters". The night before their execution, their jailers would hold a feast known as a monster's ball as their farewell. Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Leticia Musgrove.



Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), a widower, and his son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), are corrections officers in the local prison. They reside in Georgia with Hank's ailing father, Buck (Peter Boyle), an unwavering racist whose wife committed suicide. Hank's hateful attitude toward others, strongly influenced by his father, extends to his father, his son, and members of the neighboring community.

As Hank and Sonny assist in the execution of convicted murderer Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), the proceedings prove too intense for Sonny, who collapses and then begins to vomit as he is leading Lawrence to the electric chair. Hank beats up Sonny in the jail's bathroom afterwards. Some time later, Hank drags Sonny out of bed and tells him to get out of the house. Unable to cope with the estrangement, Sonny grabs a gun. The confrontation ends in their living room with Hank at gunpoint, lying on the carpet, and Sonny in Buck's customary chair. Sonny asks his father, "You hate me, don't you?" After his father calmly confirms that he does and always has, Sonny responds, "Well, I always loved you," and then shoots himself. Hank subsequently buries Sonny in the back garden, quits his job at the prison, burns his uniform in the backyard, and locks the door of Sonny's room up tightly. Buck calls him a quitter.

During the years of Lawrence's imprisonment, his wife, Leticia (Halle Berry), has been struggling while raising their son, Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun), who has inherited his father's artistic talent, but is also morbidly obese. Along with her domestic problems, Leticia struggles financially, leading to the loss of the family car and, worse, an eviction notice on her house. In desperate need of money, Leticia takes a job at a diner frequented by Hank. One rainy night, Leticia and Tyrell are walking down a soaked highway when Tyrell is struck by a car. Leticia is left helpless on the side of the road, grasping her son and calling out to passing motorists, all of whom drive past. Hank happens to be driving along and sees Leticia cradling her mortally injured son. He initially drives past, like the cars before him, but then turns around, picks Leticia and Tyrell up, and takes them to a hospital, but Tyrell dies upon arrival and Hank lends his shoulder for Leticia to cry on. At the suggestion of the authorities at the hospital, he drives her home. A few days later, Hank gives Leticia a ride home from the diner and after they begin talking in the car and discover the common loss of their sons, she invites him in and they drown their grief with alcohol. They begin a relationship initially based on sex and relief from loneliness but which later becomes emotionally supportive. Hank finds out that Leticia is Lawrence's widow, but he does not tell her that he participated in her husband's execution.

Leticia stops by Hank's home with a present for him. Hank is not home, but Buck is. Buck insults Leticia using raw racist language and implying that Hank is only involved with her because he wants to have sex with a black woman; she responds by rejecting Hank. This incident proves to be the last straw for Hank and he decides to send his father to a nursing home; it is implied that Hank will cut him out of his life as well. Leticia is evicted from her home for non-payment of rent and Hank invites her to move in with him. She agrees and later discovers Hank's involvement in her husband's death while he is gone but is there waiting for him when he returns from town with ice cream. At first, she looks dazed but gradually she seems to cheer up. As they sit on the porch, eating ice cream and gazing up at the stars, Hank says, "I think we're going to be all right." Leticia smiles, but does not reply.



Louisiana State Penitentiary served as a filming location.

The prison scenes in Monster's Ball were filmed in Louisiana State Penitentiary in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.

CRITICISM Critics argued the film showed extreme racist ideologies that portrayed African-American males as criminal or inept and black women as whores needing a white savior. This was high-lighted by the fact of many other African American actresses refusing the rule based on its plot and pornographic scenes. It was regarded as being atrocious in content; depicting a black man being executed and his wife/girlfriend romantically engaging with a knowingly racist guard who over saw his execution. Actress Halle Berry received an Oscar for her performance which angered many African-Americans who thought she should have received the prestigious award for her performance in "Losing Isaiah".


The film received some positive reviews; review website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 120 of the 141 reviews they tallied were positive. This resulted in a score of 85% and a certification of "Fresh".[1] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and stated that, "The movie has the complexity of great fiction"[2] listing it as the best film of 2001.

Acclaim was also given to Coronji Calhoun, who was chosen from an open casting call and was paid the minimum union scale for his work as Tyrell Musgrove, the ill-fated son of Lawrence and Leticia. "Perhaps one of the most affecting performances of the year was given by a 10-year-old Louisiana fourth-grader who has never acted before or studied the craft," commented Variety reporter Christopher Grove.

Despite numerous positive reviews of the film, some black activists urged a boycott, notably Miles Willis of the "Milestones" jazz program on Pacifica Radio's KPFT. His statement, championed by syndicated film columnist Esther Iverem, included the following: "Imagine the seething indignation that a Jewish man might feel while watching a story in which the widow of a Nazi concentration camp victim has an intimate relationship with the SS officer that shoved her husband into one of those ovens at Auschwitz!"

Esther Iverem, editor and film critic, stated that "you have to wonder if this is what it takes for a black woman to be named best actress … Who was the last "best actress" who did a nude sex scene?" Iverem went on to say, "Ultimately, Monster's Ball uses the legacy of racism in an unconvincing manner to belittle its impact, and its historical and present-day consequences." Iverem maintained that scores of black men were boycotting the film.[3]


  • Academy Awards
    • Best Actress: Halle Berry (Winner)
    • Best Original Screenplay: Milo Addica & Will Rokos (Nominated)
  • BAFTA Awards
    • Best Actress: Halle Berry (Nominated)
  • Golden Globes
    • Best Actress in a Drama: Halle Berry (Nominated)
  • National Board of Review
    • Best Actor: Billy Bob Thornton (Winner)
    • Best Actress: Halle Berry (Winner)


  1. ^ "Monster's Ball Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
  2. ^ "Monster's Ball :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times (February 1, 2002). Retrieved March 27, 2011
  3. ^ "Esther Iverem, 'Not All of Us Are Oscar Happy'". (March 28, 2002). Retrieved March 27, 2011.

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