Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), is a drifter prostitute who kills several of her "johns"; when she meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), sent by her parents to live with an aunt in Florida to "cure her homosexuality", the two strike up an unlikely yet intense relationship. She is nearing suicidal despair when she wanders into a bar, and meets Selby - and falls in love. To keep her and Selby's relationship alive, she continues hooking, only to fuel an increasingly escalating deadly rage, a fury vented with a lurid string of killings and the media's sordid designation of her as the first female serial killer - a monster.
Review by Louise Keller:
Monster is an extraordinary film. Although it is a sensational story filled with tragic elements, it is above all, a love story. In telling the true story of prostitute-turned serial-killer Aileen Wuornos, first time writer/director Patty Jenkins draws us into her tough reality, giving us a real insight into her world. Jenkins' script is careful not to make the protagonist a sympathetic character, and her actions are never excused. It's the development of the poignant relationship between the tough, street-wise street walker and the innocent, but spoilt Selby that highlights Aileen's emotional frailty, and how she is pushed over the edge.
It's a role of a lifetime for leggy South African actress Charlize Theron, who finally overcomes her 'sexy, beautiful' tag. Just like Halle Berry, whose award-winning role in Monster's Ball allowed audiences to perceive her talents differently, Theron's performance as Aileen is breathtaking. This never feels like a performance - an unrecognisable Theron breathes all shades of life into Aileen, discards every ounce of vanity, as she piles on the pounds and vanishes behind the staggeringly effective make up. The great thing about Toni G's make up, is that it doesn't look like make up at all: the concentration is on texturising freckles and sun damage onto her skin. The physicality of the specially sculpted teeth totally change Theron's jaw line and there are resulting mannerisms that draw our eyes away from her cloudy, dark eyes, to rest on the protruding, uneven teeth. From bitten nails and jagged cuticles to an unflattering excess of midriff bulge, there is nothing token about this performance.
Christina Ricci's selfish Selby, who lives in her own rose-tinted world, makes a stark contrast to Aileen, and we feel the intensity of their first encounter, as they connect on the skating rink. In some ways, Ricci's role is the harder one: she is still and softly spoken, using her huge almond-shaped eyes, as she convinces as the innocent but rebellious teenager who only sees what she chooses to see. Aileen takes on the role as provider, and when Selby makes demands, Aileen jumps. The hardest jump for me, is Aileen's immediate commitment to a first-time lesbian relationship. But beyond that, we quickly understand their common need for each other and how the relationship develops. Her contempt for the men who use her body is clear: she is like a wild, wounded animal displaying her pain after the brutal rape that takes her on an uncontrollable course of violent action. A tough and unsettling film that delivers, it is impossible to be unaffected by Monster.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You can't buy truth in a bottle, but you can have it served up on screen, and Monster does it with every second of its screentime. A superb combination of script, direction and performance, the film reverberates with truth; and even though it is based on a true story, it could have ended up differently.
Beautiful Charlize Theron does more than make herself utlra-plain; it isn't simply a vanity submersion. She creates a character so completely and so credibly that we begin to understand her, even though she is almost unfathomable. Whether she's accurately portraying the real Aileen Wounos, few of us can say; but I'd bet that she captures the kind of person Wournos was with astonishing accuracy. It certainly has a haunting quality, as if we'd met this woman, who spent 12 years on death row. Not that the film takes us there. Indeed, it ends with the sentencing, as the film is not about her as a prisoner. It's about her as a person; and above all, how she found herself in circumstances that prodded her along the path she took.
The screenplay hints at fascinating conundrums about the human condition, like the question of choice. Do we all really have as much choice in our life-altering decisions as we think? Do we even know which decisions are going to be life altering?
But Monster does even better when it comes to showing us Wournos: it manages to avoid glorifying or justifying her killings, while managing to generate empathy for her all the same. That's not the same as justifying her actions: it's closer to understanding them. We are never compromised in having to condone what she does, but to see it from her point of view. And that's not at all free of guilt.
The complexity of human existence is paraded here, and the need to be loved is reaffirmed. It is also a film of great technical skills, which bring these major issues into focus without distractions. An outstanding, moving and unforgettable film, Monster is that rare work that is at once artistically remarkable and commercially appealing.
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CAST: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay. Scott Wilson
PRODUCER: Mark Damon, Donald Kushner, Clark Peterson, Charlize Theron, Brad Wyman
DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins
SCRIPT: Patty Jenkins
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven Bernstein
EDITOR: Arthur Coburn, Jane Kurson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Edward T. McAvoy
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 25, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: DEJ Productions
VIDEO RELEASE: September 6, 2004