MONSTER Send This Review to a Friend
Charlize Theron explodes with one of 2003's best performances, maybe the best, as Aileen Wuornos, who in real life was executed in Florida for a series of killings. I have seen a documentary on the subject and a play. This dramatization, whatever the total truth, is a searing, gripping story. "Monster," written and directed by Patty Jenkins, affords Theron a breakthrough role enabling her to create a vivid character with whom we can sympathize even though she is doing horrible things, at least as depicted here.
"Monster" doesn't deal with the long years that Wuornos spent on death row and the legal raw deal that she was alleged to have received in the state's effort to build her up as a serial killer and take advantage of the publicity to kill her. Nor does it deal directly with capital punishment.
But by backing up and showing us a woman whose background led her to prostitution, which in turn led her to murder, first a man who abused her, then, if we accept what is shown on screen, men who did nothing to her, the film gives us a portrait of an individual's downfall that might have been prevented. By killing her, the state of Florida only compounded the crime.
Partially relying considerably on makeup that gives her a look different from anything we've seen of her on film previously, such as Woody Allen's "Celebrity" or "The Cider house Rules," Theron tears into the role of Wuornos with a vengeance. She is all edgy, outwardly tough and increasingly desperate. Contemplating suicide, she goes into a bar for a last drink and meets Cristina Ricci as Selby Wall, impressionable and emotionally desperate in her own way. A lesbian affair blossoms, with Wuornos the dominant force, Wall the pliant one who goes along with Wuornos's spree and fast talk about the wonderful things they can do together.
Ricci is poignantly pathetic in the supporting role, which adds immeasurably to the intensity of the film and the doomed relationship. The love affair is based on real life events, and in the film, as in reality, Wuornos's partner ends up helping to send her to her death. Bruce Dern has a key role as Thomas, a man on whom Wuornos must depend for help.
"Monster," as directed by Jenkins, has whirlwind force. We are carried along on a road to tragedy, and the film doesn't attempt to sentimentalize Wuornos but enables us to understand her in context. It is gritty all the way, thanks to the performances and such factors as Steven Bernstein's photography and the tight editing by Jane Kurson and Arthur Coburn.
Jenkins relies heavily on letters Wuornos wrote while on death row to a childhood friend, whom the director met. The research helped get the right mix of tension and reflection in the voice-overs that were used for the multi-faceted "Monster," which is a crime movie, a road flick, a love story and a look behind the headline's and society's ideas of retribution. A Newmarket films release.