Throughout our society and its underbelly of racial divide (still persisting) an honest story comes to be refreshing. For an infected wound seldom relieves itself of its poisons without pressing or cleansing in some way and so it is without openness in the face of hostility.

The Deep South setting of Monster’s Ball illustrates both the dark side of our connections with others and the potential (too often unrealized) for wondrous possibility. The circumstances that come about from one man’s execution stream into a very realistic chain of events both tragic and defining. While they lay the lie to what racism is by unfolding the vacuum it creates in all hearts in anyway decided by it.

Two levels emerge from the story: love cannot be given as a consequence of approval and true empathy knows no race or ethnicity. And in the discovery of these most valuable realizations, bought at the price of ultimate sacrifice, two people from two differing social spectrums, find love and mutually intense empathy together in terms thought unlikely but for such extremes.

The complexity of both storyline and its direction is astoundingly subtle. We know of the struggles Hank Grotowski (played wonderfully by the accomplished Billy Bob Thronton) must undergo to prevail over the mindsets he’s inherited from his father, Buck (the well casted Peter Boyle,) but those of Leticia (beautifully performed by the lovely Halle Berry) are far more complex. She must come to terms with even greater tragedy and with accepting a social condition wholly foreign, trusting that this man so new to her life and new to his own growth, will not revert. Only strong bonds can endure this…will they?… as each new discovery and each footstep taken, are tenuous.

The role of Hank’s son, Sonny, is performed by the incomparable and sadly late, Heath Ledger. A young man caught between the two world’s dividing his town and occupation, and having the same capacity to enter into empathy for both. Something seen as only weakness by the entrenched and which comes to be a longing regret at missing by his own father in his ensuing growth.

The successes of direction (Marc Forster) and astute screen writing (Milo Addica and Will Rokos) are in the careful avoidance of stereotyping. From Litecia’s ill-fated son, Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun) and her condemned husband, Lawrence (P. Diddy) to the family living nearby, all are colorful individuals of their own and not “profiles” of type. This is very important to the credibility of the powerful changes coming about in Hank.

Excellent supporting cast performances, scene changes, setting details, and camera work. Graphic love scene and nudity, with racial slurs and strong language.

Highly recommended and an emotionally impacting film.