Monster's Ball

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Monster's Ball
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMarc Forster
Produced byLee Daniels
Written byMilo Addica
Will Rokos
StarringHalle Berry
Billy Bob Thornton
Heath Ledger
Sean Combs
Mos Def
Will Rokos
Milo Addica
Peter Boyle
Music byAsche and Spencer
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Edited byMatt Chesse
Lee Daniels Entertainment
Distributed byLionsgate Films[1]
Release date
  • December 26, 2001 (2001-12-26) (AFI Fest)
  • February 8, 2002 (2002-02-08)
Running time
111 minutes
112 minutes (Unrated)
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million
Box office$44.9 million

Monster's Ball is a 2001 American romantic drama film directed by Marc Forster and written by Milo Addica and Will Rokos, who also appear in the film. It stars Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger, and Peter Boyle, with Sean Combs, Mos Def, and Coronji Calhoun in supporting roles. Thornton portrays a widowed corrections officer who begins a relationship with a woman (Berry), unaware that she is the widow of a man (Combs) he executed.[2]

Berry received positive reviews for her performance and won the Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first and, as of 2020, only African-American woman and the only woman of color to win the award.


Hank Grotowski, a widower, and his son, Sonny, are correctional officers in a prison in Georgia. They reside with Hank's father, Buck, a bigoted retired correctional officer whose wife (Hank's mom) died by suicide. Sonny is friends with Cooper brothers Willie and Darryl, who Hank frightens off with a shotgun at the behest of Buck, and is later confronted by their father Ryrus.

Hank, the prison's deputy warden, will oversee the execution of convicted murderer Lawrence Musgrove. Musgrove, a talented amateur artist, draws a sketch of Sonny. Sonny (a shy and gentle person, as kind to Musgrove as his duties permit) has a brief sexual encounter with a prostitute in a motel then tries to ask her on a dinner date, but she leaves.

The night before the execution, Hank tells Sonny that a "monster's ball" is held by the corrections officers, a get-together of those who will participate in the execution. The proceedings prove too much for Sonny, who, as he is leading Lawrence to the electric chair, vomits, and then collapses. Following the execution, Hank confronts Sonny in the prison's bathroom and slaps him for being so "soft" and for "ruining a man's last walk".

After Hank attacks Sonny in his bed and orders him to leave the house, Sonny grabs a revolver from under his pillow and holds his father at gunpoint. The confrontation ends in their living room with Hank sitting on the carpet, and Sonny in Buck's customary chair. Sonny asks his father if he hates him. After his father calmly confirms that he does, and always has, Sonny responds, "Well, I always loved you," and shoots himself in the chest, dying.

Hank buries Sonny in the back garden with an abbreviated funeral because, as Buck comments, "He was weak." Hank subsequently resigns as deputy warden, burns his uniform in the backyard, and locks the door of Sonny's room. He purchases a local gas station in an attempt to provide a diversion in his retirement. The Coopers offer condolences to Hank, who asks which one is Willie and which one is "Harry" (mistaking Darryl's name) and is corrected politely.

During the years of Lawrence's imprisonment leading up to his execution, his wife, Leticia, has been struggling while raising their son, Tyrell, who has inherited his father's artistic talent. She abusively berates the boy regarding his obesity. Along with her domestic problems, Leticia struggles financially, with an eviction notice on her house from her landlord Bob Ortiz. In desperate need of money, Leticia takes a job at a diner frequented by Hank. Due to lack of maintenance (which Lawrence had suggested) the car breaks down, so Leticia and Tyrell begin walking back and forth from home to the diner.

One rainy night, Leticia (having stolen an umbrella) and Tyrell are walking down a soaked highway. Hank happens to be driving along and sees Tyrell lying bloody on the ground and Leticia calling for help. After some hesitation, Hank stops, and being told Tyrell was struck by a car, he drives them to a hospital, where Tyrell is pronounced dead. At the suggestion of the authorities at the hospital, Hank drives Leticia home. A few days later, Hank gives Leticia another ride home from the diner. They begin talking in the car about their common losses, and she invites him in. Hank finds out that Leticia is Lawrence's widow, though he does not tell her that he participated in her husband's execution. They drown their grief with alcohol and have anal sex.[3]

Hank takes Sonny's old truck to Ryrus' auto shop and they discuss fixing it up as Ryrus' daughter Maggie plays nearby, with Hank mentioning he wanted to sell the truck, and asking if Ryrus' boys could wax it. He then offers to give the truck to Leticia, who reluctantly accepts after initial protests of discomfort.

Leticia stops by Hank's home with a present for him, but he is not there. She meets Buck, who insults her and implies that Hank is only involved with her because he enjoys sex with black women. Leticia, affected by the remarks, refuses to interact with Hank. After Hank is made aware of Buck's actions, he forces his father out of the house and into a nursing home. He then renames the gas station "Leticia's", saying it is his girlfriend's name when asked.

Leticia is evicted from her home and Hank invites her to move in with him. She later discovers Hank's involvement in her husband's death when she finds the drawings of Sonny and Hank done by Lawrence as he awaited execution. She is upset, but is still there waiting for him when he returns from town with ice cream. The film ends with the two of them eating ice cream together on the back porch, content with each other.


  • Billy Bob Thornton as Hank Grotowski
  • Halle Berry as Leticia Musgrove
  • Heath Ledger as Sonny Grotowski (Hank's son)
  • Peter Boyle as Buck Grotowski (Hank's dad)
  • Coronji Calhoun as Tyrell Musgrove (Leticia's son)
  • Sean Combs as Lawrence Musgrove (Tyrell's father)
  • Mos Def as Ryrus Cooper (local mechanic)
  • Charles Cowan Jr. as Willie Cooper, one of Ryrus' sons
  • Taylor LaGrange as Darryl Cooper, Ryrus' other son (who Hank thought was named 'Harry')
  • Clara Infinity Daniels as Maggie Cooper, Ryrus' daughter
  • Will Rokos as Warden Velesco
  • Milo Addica as Tommy Roulaine
  • Amber Rules as Vera


Louisiana State Penitentiary served as a filming location.

The basis for this film came from the desire of actor-turned-writers Addica and Rokos to make a script that would interest a big star alongside themselves (with Harvey Keitel in mind since he liked the latter's writing when offered one of their scripts. They were inspired by their troubled relationships with their fathers as a starting point that eventually led to a generational tale about executioners, which eventually led to the inspiration for the title (an old term for the last meal of a condemned man and a "ball" that took place with his jailers the night before). They wrote the script over a period of eight months over the course of 1995 that eventually inspired a bit of interest through a producer of a film Rokos had acted in. Years of development occurred due to interest from filmmakers ranging from Robert DeNiro to Oliver Stone along with studios that wanted a lighter ending, but the transition to Lee Daniels and Lionsgate led to interest back to the original ending. [4] The film was produced by Lionsgate and Lee Daniels Entertainment, the first production for the latter.


The film received mostly positive reviews, with Berry's performance being widely acclaimed. Review website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 121 of 143 reviews were positive, giving a score of 85% and a certification of "Fresh".[5] The site's critical consensus states, "Somber and thought provoking, Monster's Ball has great performances all around."

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and rated it as the best film of 2001, stating that it "has the complexity of great fiction".[6] On Metacritic, the film received a 69 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews".


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Halle Berry Won
Best Original Screenplay Milo Addica and Will Rokos Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress Halle Berry Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Berlin International Film Festival Best Actress Won
Black Reel Awards Best Actress Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Nominated
National Board of Review Best Actor Billy Bob Thornton Won
Best Actress Halle Berry Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Theaters Have A Monster's Ball". April 2, 2002. Archived from the original on April 17, 2002. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  2. ^ Brooks, Libby (June 3, 2002). "'Now I'm really at the party'". The Guardian.
  3. ^ Bonner, Mehera (4 September 2019). "15 Movies That Broke the Mold and Featured Anal Sex Scenes". Marie Claire. Retrieved 5 January 2020. Halle Berry made history as the first black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Monster's Ball. The film featured an intense anal sex scene between Berry and costar Billy Bob Thornton.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Monster's Ball Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  6. ^ Monster's Ball Review. Chicago Sun-Times (February 1, 2002). Retrieved March 27, 2011

External links[edit]