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Review byMatthew Turner29/03/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 111 mins

Surprisingly moving, impressively directed drama with a deservedly Oscar-winning performance by Charlize Theron.

Monster is based on the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who achieved instant tabloid notoriety as “the first female serial killer” when she was arrested in 1991. During the 12 years she spent on Death Row, she was also the subject of two excellent documentaries by British director Nick Broomfield: Aileen: The Selling of a Serial Killer and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (the latter was recently released in cinemas and should be on Channel 4 later this year).

Far Cry From Exploitation

A far cry from the exploitative serial killer flicks we’ve come to expect, Monster is a surprisingly moving drama with a heartfelt performance by Charlize Theron that deservedly won her the Best Actress Oscar.

Written and directed by Patty Jenkins, who was granted access to both Wuornos and her letters after her death, Monster doesn’t dwell too much on Aileen’s undoubtedly horrific childhood; instead it relies on the occasional, brief, effective flashback and devastatingly subtle, almost throwaway lines such as “It must have been when I was thirteen because I’d just given my baby up for adoption”.

The film begins as Aileen (Charlize Theron), a drifter working as a roadside prostitute, meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) in a lesbian bar and the two strike up a nervous, yet intense relationship.

Desperate to keep Selby, yet unable to find a proper job, Aileen continues hooking. However, when one of her “johns” turns sickeningly violent, she shoots him in self-defence and the excellent screenplay suggests that this tips her over the edge, as she “re-enacts” her crime with subsequent clients. There are subtle differences between each of the murder scenes that hint at the gradual deterioration of Aileen’s already precarious mental state: the final murder is as heart-breaking as it is shocking.

Theron Nothing Short Of Astonishing

Charlize Theron’s performance is nothing short of astonishing – she gets everything right, from the nervous, buggy eyes to her mannerisms and speech patterns. (Ironically, the performance seems like caricature until you see footage of the real Aileen and realise she was exactly like that.) The make-up, courtesy of make-up supremo Tony G. (cruelly denied an Oscar nomination) plays a big part in the performance, but Theron really gets under the skin of the character and actually humanises her in the process.

Critics have so far been harsh on Christina Ricci’s performance, but she’s actually pretty good in a tricky role (a slightly fictionalised version of a real person), conveying Selby’s neediness and awkwardness through little details such as her nervous laugh, but also balancing the manipulative nature that forced Aileen to keep hooking with the vulnerable quality that attracted her in the first place.

There’s also good support from Bruce Dern (who brings a pleasing echo of 1970s counter-culture movies) and Pruitt Taylor Vince, in a tiny but effective cameo, cast – sort of - against type.

To sum up, Monster is a well written, impressively directed film that is as heart-breaking as it is shocking. It’s also full of nice touches, such as the unexpected explanation of the title and is definitely worth seeing for Theron’s award-winning performance. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 18/12/2017 04:41

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