Monster

Monster

****

Reviewed by: David Stanners

When Keisha Castle-Hughes was denied the Oscar for her debut performance in Whale Rider, I thought justice had again befallen deaf ears.

This was before Monster's UK release. Having experienced Charlize Theron's gut-wrenching interpretation of Aileen Wuornos's life as a prostitute/serial killer facing Death Row, any doubts cast over the bearer of the little gold monument have been cast aside.

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Writer/director Patty Jenkins has opted for an humane, socially conscious and empathetic portrayal. Construed by some as a blatant feminist sympathy trip, Theron's performance is a tour de force, picking up Jenkins's contentious baton with extreme gusto.

Set in Florida in the Eighties, Monster introduces Wuornos as a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, desperately in need of a break. Hanging out with the rough-necks and bikers, she drinks like a trooper, sleeps rough (or in cheap motels) and hooks on the highway, where sleazy, violent men are looking for cheap relief.

Selby (Christina Ricci) is a young lesbian who's been sent packing by her parents to live with relatives, presumably in the hope that this will convert her to a "normal" sexuality and "acceptable" lifestyle. She meets Wuornos in a bar, after which the two social misfits slowly come together.

Selby is a naïve small town teenager, who just wants to be accepted. Finding an older woman, hooker or not, who promises great things, is a ticket for an adventure ride.

Between dodgy motels and biker bars, the pair fall for each other, but whereas Selby can hop off at anytime, Wuornos is on a vicious loop with no stops along the way. When her plans to go straight reach rock bottom, a desperate soul hits the road again. Working one night, she is tied up and brutally raped. Managing to escape, she kills her assailant, kick-starting a career as a multiple murderess, en route to Death Row.

Monster is all about Theron. As it draws from her own tragic background, growing up in South Africa, where her mother shot her abusive father dead, there are tenuous parallels. Aileen's early life is full of hope and desire. Little by little, we watch the veneer crack and fatally implode.

It is here that Jenkins comes under fire for her interpretation of Wuornos as a social victim, rather than a serial killer. Where the film might have suffered from a lesser performance, a virtually unrecognisable Theron draws pathos from the script, portraying Aileen not as the blameless innocent but as a desperately flawed character, trying to find herself in the cruellest of worlds.

Ricci is well and truly out-acted. As the volatile teenage sidekick, she does what is required, but Selby's complete reliance on Wuornos becomes somewhat irritating. Based on a true story, the key word here is "based". The authenticity of Jenkins's adaptation and Theron's interpretation leaves question marks.

Piling on weight and spending hours in makeup does not warrant an Oscar. Piling on weight, spending hours in makeup and doing what Theron did, does.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2004
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Dramatised version of the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
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Director: Patty Jenkins

Writer: Patty Jenkins, based on the life of Aileen Wuornos

Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson, Lee Tergesen, Pruitt Taylor Vince

Year: 2003

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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