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Monster (18)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Charlize Theron, director Patty Jenkins and producer Clark Peterson; Monster; The Vision and The Journey (25 minute making of documentary with optional commentary by Patty Jenkins); The Making of a Monster (22 minute documentary); Deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by Patty Jenkins); Filmmaking Demo (create your own scene using dialogue or music or effects); Interview with Patty Jenkins and composer BT; Theatrical trailers.

THE story of Aileen Wuornos, America’s first female serial killer, has already been told in documentary form, by Nick Broomfield, but now serves to provide a revelatory performance from Charlize Theron, who was rightly named best actress at this year’s Oscars.

Not since Robert De Niro played Jake LaMotta has there been quite such a radical transformation of a star, yet Theron literally inhabits the role of Wuornos, getting beneath her skin to present an emotional portrayal of the prostitute-turned-killer.

Wuornos was executed in 2003 for the murder of six middle-aged men, between 1989 and 1990, whom she lured to secluded areas in order to take their belongings. Yet her motives remain unclear, as her testimony changed so many times throughout her trial and subsequent hearings, during which she often claimed she had acted in self-defence.

Broomfield’s documentaries concerned themselves with the facts surrounding the case, but Monster, while touching on them, takes the form of an imagined account of the days leading up to the capture of the killer.

Written and directed by Patty Jenkins, it seeks to present Wuornos in a more three-dimensional light than the man-hater depicted in many of her headlines.

As Jenkins states: "I wanted to be very clear about the fact that she did some very horrible things and that she knew that she had done these horrible things, and not to tell the story of a glorified serial killer, but rather to service the greater truth, which was that this person - who was an incredible victim in so many ways - became the problem in other ways and killed innocent people and ruined people’s lives."

Theron, for her part, succeeds in realising these aims, turning in a frank and frequently graphic portrayal of a woman driven to commit the crimes she did, for love.

When first introduced to Theron’s Wuornos, she is a desperate woman, contemplating suicide, until a chance meeting with Christina Ricci’s isolated lesbian, Selby Wall, in a bar, unlocks feelings that she never knew existed.

In spite of her misgivings, Wuornos falls in love with Selby and clings to her like a life preserver, vowing to change her ways and give up ‘hooking’, in order to provide a better life for them both.

But when one of her ‘johns’ turns violent, she is forced to kill him, as much out of desperation to see Selby again, as through violent rage, and subsequently resorts to increasingly desperate measures to provide that better existence.

The ensuing character-study is as heart-breaking as it is sordid and violent, with Theron providing a near-faultless display at the heart of proceedings.

Not content with merely looking the part (she put on weight, scrubbed herself free of glamorous make-up and wore false teeth), Theron also taps in the possible psychology of her character, expertly walking the line between the tragedy of her life and predicament, and the horror she was capable of committing.

It is a tribute to her skills as an actress that audiences can sympathise with her as much as they despise her, being able to understand the reasons behind her actions, while never being able to justify them.

Hence, when the time comes for Wuornos to say farewell to Selby, at a bus stop at the peak of her desperation, the scene is packed with emotion.

Likewise, she can be just as cold-bloodedly chilling, particularly during scenes in which she mercilessly slays at least two of her victims (one of whom turns out to be a policeman).

Theron is the driving force behind the movie and helps to make it the absorbing experience that it is, consistently surprising viewers with the intensity of her acting. It is a personal tour-de-force.

The film, itself, is shot in such a style as to recall the iconoclastic American movies of the 60s and 70s, and seldom pulls its punches, although some of the more deliberately kitsch romantic stuff, involving Ricci’s character, feels a little awkward when set against the realities of the world Wuornos inhabits.

The movie also comes close, on several occasions, to falling into the trap it seeks to avoid, by sympathising a little too much with Wuornos, despite refusing to touch on the deeper story involving her having a child at 15, the mother who deserted her, her physically abusive grandfather, and her history of stormy rages, aliases, and robberies.

It is crucially important for audiences to realise that this is, at the end of the day, an imagined account, although many of the facts surrounding her arrest and confession are told as authentically as possible.

As good as Monster is as a film, however, it only excels because of Theron. She is the compelling reason for seeing it.

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