Monster's Ball does what few films can: it takes a racially charged situation and renders the results without stereotype or condescension. This in turn enables the movie to present a powerful examination of humanity under duress.
Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) is a prison guard wedged between a closed, bigoted father (Peter Boyle) and a sensitive, questioning son (Heath Ledger). All work on death row, and all live under the same roof. Hank has a hand in the execution of a black man, whose wife, Leticia (Halle Berry), slowly edges into his life.
Director Marc Forster conjures a small Southern community with the penetrating depth of a well-crafted short story. The believability of Hank and Leticia's emerging relationship contributes to the power of Monster's Ball. Their central characters nurse injuries, wear armor, and make mistakes. Better still, Berry and Thornton are backed by a fine array of actors, including the rapper Mos Def. Monster's Ball succeeds in making the viewer care deeply about the people whose troubled, changing lives it depicts.