[MOVIE REVIEW]Getting good and lost between love and hateOstensibly about racism in America's modern-day South, director Marc Forster's absorbing, contemplative movie is more about ordinary, lonely and mean people searching for redemption. The story that unfolds is as unordinary and as offbeat as one would expect from a movie starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Thornton plays Hank, a white prison guard incapable of expressing emotion. What he does express is bigotry, egged on by his father (Peter Boyle), a retired prison guard. Hank may be short with words, but he is full of pride and anger, which he unleashes on his son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), also a prison guard.
Father and son supervise death row, where an inmate, Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), will soon be executed.
The scenes in jail are unflinching. In one such scene, a black prison guard, the only black prison guard, is strapped to a seat while his white peers practice executing him.
In another, Sonny, unable to walk Lawrence to the electric chair, throws up, only to be abused by his disappointed father.
As if all that is not heavy enough, in a twist of fate, or perhaps it is fate, Hank becomes involved with the dead man's widow, Leticia (Halle Berry). Berry won a Best Actress Oscar for her sensitive portrayal of a widow unable to cope with the challenges she faces.
Both Hank and Leticia live unhappy lives. Leticia is desperate for money. Without her husband, she has no future. She even beats her fat son, Tyrell (Coronji Calhoun), for sneaking an ice cream cone.
Some of the emotions are built on a framework of coincidences. Lawrence is, for a short time at least, an important figure in both Hank and Leticia's lives. But the two never meet. Hank drives past Leticia once, but he is one of hundreds of anonymous drivers in hundreds of anonymous cars passing an anonymous person on the sidewalk.
Another coincidence has Sonny and Hank soliciting the same prostitute. The camera never shows her face, as she is only an object. Sonny does try asking her out once, but she ignores him, takes her money and leaves.
When Hank and Leticia finally engage in sex, it's not so much of a surprise as an uncomfortable moment between two people fumbling for each other. And you see Leticia's face.
Those moments of coincidences are supposed to be powerful, but they seem contrived. They do create and then reiterate a strange sense of fate. But instead of building up, the movie almost seems to unravel as the characters reach out for each other.
Is Hank a hero for breaking with his family's tradition of loneliness and racism? Is Leticia drawn to Hank for saving her? Is it love or is it survival?
by Joe Yong-hee