A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a brutal movie. It includes an explicit execution, a suicide by gunshot, the death of a child, and extremely explicit sexual situations, including prostitution. There are very disturbing family situations involving emotional and physical abuse. Characters use very strong language, and they drink and smoke.
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What's the story?
In MONSTER'S BALL, prison guard Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) clings to his hatred and racism as a way of distancing himself from his loneliness and misery. He throws two black boys off his property, even though they are friends of his son's. When his son (Heath Ledger), also a death row guard, gets sick while escorting a prisoner to execution, Hank brutally assaults him physically and emotionally. Although it is clear that it is Hank's own vulnerability and isolation that terrifies him, the attack and its aftermath are horrifying. Meanwhile, Leticia (Halle Berry), the condemned prisoner's wife, is desperate. Her son drowns his misery in candy and is very overweight. She loses her waitress job, her car breaks down, and she is about to lose her house. Hank and Leticia see their lives as hopelessly bleak, and they get worse as unspeakable tragedy strikes them both. In a way, the tragedy frees them. Having lost everything, there is no longer any reason to try to hold on to old notions and old fears.
Is it any good?
The artificiality of the plot is a distraction, at times seeming like a bizarre version of the old Hollywood imperative that the romantic couple has to "meet cute." But Thornton and Berry are magnificent. Berry deservedly won an Oscar for her brave and vulnerable performance. The dignity and poignancy of both performances is deeply moving. Sean Combs is outstanding in his brief appearance as Leticia's husband, demonstrating great dignity and a range of emotion as he prepares for his execution.