Monster's Ball (15)

Review by Oli Burley

EMOTIONS, not actions, speak louder than words - and in Monster's Ball the volume of feeling is amplified by a refreshing economy of dialogue.

The film is simple in deed; Leticia Musgrove (the Oscar-winning Halle Berry) falls for Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton) - a Corrections Officer who executed her husband, Lawrence (Sean Combs), on death row.

Director Marc Forster raises a batch of challenging issues, most prominently racism and human need, that force you to walk half a yard slower back to your own everyday existence.

Berry's performance won her the 'Actress in a leading role' category at the 74th Annual Academy Awards, and a place in history as the first black to do so.

Yet this reflective film, set in the American South, is not so much about her but the way in which the audience responds to the development of Hank's near-chilling reserve and Leticia's vulnerability.

Reticent Hank, his racist homebound father, Buck (Peter Boyle), and rather more compassionate son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), make up three generations of death squad wardens.

The execution of artistic Lawrence is a killing too many for Sonny, who vomits while escorting the condemned man on his last walk. Sonny's sick sparks a father-son row that ends in the latter's suicide.

The deaths are turning points; Hank quits his job, but continues to visit the local diner where by chance Leticia - whose obese son Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) subsequently collapses and dies - becomes a waitress.

Herein lies the film's make-or-break point. The nature of the work either makes Hank's union with Leticia a triumph for fate or exposes it as a crude twist that distills the emotional tension that has gone before.

Either way, the relationship does develop. Her poverty is counter-balanced by his emotional restraint but the characters - united by filial loss - manage to fill each other's void.

The pair cannot escape their pasts, however; Hank presents Sonny's 4x4 'Eliminator' Jeep to Leticia, but he concludes that the newly forged partners 'are going to be alright'.

It is a voice from the grave that confirms that suspicion. "It takes a human being to see a human being," said Lawrence, as he is prepared for the electric chair. Forster's film is certainly an eye-opener.