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Monster (2003)

  Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Written by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Bruce Dern, Christina Ricci, Charlize Theron
Links: Monster on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD
Genre: Based on True Story

This movie gets: 5.50 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 147th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Monster (2003) is also mentioned in em_fiction's review of Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003).

"Prosthetics: what's good for the goose..." - a review by pearly

Sometimes, an actor wins an award for a film because they were a good component within a superb overall unit. Other times, they stand out amongst the relative mediocrity of the rest of the film. With Monster, it was more the latter, but even still, it's probably fair to say that Charlize Theron won the best actress Oscar in part because of the wonders of prosthetics. For some reason, the Academy are quite partial to such things in their female actors; just the previous year, Nicole Kidman picked up the award for having the stupidest looking fake nose I've ever seen.

Monster was an okay film, but really, if I'd seen it as the midday telemovie, I wouldn't have thought that it was overqualified in this spot, and that's coming from someone who likes "based on a true story" movies. Let's face it, the story of a woman who had a lesbian lover and killed men in her spare time is just down any number of telemovie directors' alleys.

Kidman's nose bothered me in The Hours (2002), and Theron's mouth/teeth bothered me in this. Half the time, it looked like her fake teeth were so big that she couldn't close her mouth properly, and the only positive that I can see for this is that it may have distracted me from seeing anything bad with her performance. It certainly didn't enhance my viewing experience. Prosthetics aren't 100% bad - they don't have to be a negative - but in this case, I don't see any reason to suggest that they positively enhanced Theron's portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

I've heard so many people, particularly around Oscars time, rabbiting on about how amazing Theron's tranformation was, but the thing is, wearing stupid looking prosthetics which make your face move in an unnatural way does not make you a better actor. In this case, Theron made the character realistic despite the prosthetics, rather than because of them. For me, I would have preferred to see her with a little more weight on her, and her hair messed up, and probably some sort of uglifying makeup, but certainly no fake teeth. The fake teeth were as big a distraction for me watching the film as they are proving in this review. I couldn't get past them. Whenever she spoke, all I could see was her struggling to push her lips over the teeth, and I almost didn't notice the swagger, the attitude, the things that she was achieving in making her character appear more real.

You get the picture.

And then, we come to the point of the film. Namely, what is it? Films based on true stories about serial killers fall into a number of categories. They are either damning of the killer, sympathetic towards them, or they aim to simply tell the story, perhaps with a view of letting the audience make up their own mind. The latter hardly ever works - a bias one way or the other is almost always evident. In this case, the sympathy vote is pushed; Aileen is abused, and circumstance leads her to become what she did. As is always the case with this type of film, there is no clear line, but there is definitely a slant, and in this case, it is pro-Aileen and anti-Selby.

But why? Yes, it's a film that most probably has entertainment as its primary objective, as do 99.9% of films. But I struggle to understand what I am supposed to get out of this film, and its moral, if there is one that can be gleaned. Unlike em_fiction, I was not left thinking about the film from the perspective of whether or not I was sympathetic towards Aileen. I was simply left wondering what the point of wondering was.

pearly gives this movie 4 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 18 May 2004

"And the Oscar goes to..." - a review by em_fiction

If you want to see how stunningly gorgeous Charlize Theron really is, check out The Italian Job (2003), or Reindeer Games (2000), or any other film with her in it for that matter - any other film except Monster. This time, it's actually about the acting. That's right folks, the days of Charlize Theron playing the token female eye-catcher are finally over.

Monster is the true story about Aileen Carol Wuornos (Theron), a highway prostitute who notoriously evolved into one of America's first female serial killers of the 1980s. Aileen suffered a lonely, abusive childhood and began prostitution as early as thirteen. As a woman, she's a rough, loud, insanitary tomboy who struggles to make a few dollars by pleasuring semi-truck driving rednecks along the highway. She meets a lonely young woman named Selby (Christina Ricci) with whom she starts a gay relationship. Things begin to get screwed up when Aileen starts killing her clients as a shortcut to their money, after doing it in self-defence during a brutal encounter and realising she can get away with it.

Despite the evil you'd expect a serial killer to be, Aileen isn't depicted as an entirely bad person - in fact, from the film's opening images of her childhood, Aileen is shown to be innocent but was corrupted by a misguided life. The irony of Aileen Wuornos' story is that her crimes were committed during a time where prostitutes were becoming common victims of homicide. Patty Jenkins, the writer and director, uses this paradox to accentuate the retaliation against the crimes of men.

Yes, that's right; it's another one of those rampage-against-men kind of films. It's a hell of a lot grimmer than Thelma & Louise (1991) but a lot less explicit than Baise-moi (2000). Aileen is heavily questioned throughout the film - did she commit the murders out of her own will or was she driven to do it through the cruelty of men? Her volatile personality creates fuzziness in any answers to these questions. My thoughts about her kept changing throughout the film and even at the end I was still left thinking.

There really isn't much I can say about Charlize Theron except "wow". Not only is it one of the most amazing makeovers I've ever seen (there's a section on the official website on the transformation), but her portrayal of Aileen is so frighteningly real. Charlize is almost as hard to recognise as Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (1998). An Oscar nod is almost dead-set certain - I'd even put my money on her for the Oscar itself. Christina Ricci's performance, however, was questionable. I'm not even sure if Ricci was right for the role; there was too much underacting and she was also drawn back a great deal by Charlize's glowing performance.

As much as I admire Charlize Theron in this role, I have to admit that I didn't particularly like her character very much. Even though I was heavily impressed by the film's brutal honesty, I didn't actually find myself enjoying it as much as I should've. There's a guarantee that it will work for a lot people, but just not me. Nevertheless, this film still has the incredibly rewarding experience of seeing Charlize Theron prove her potential as an actress.

em_fiction gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 14 Jan 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 5.50
Lowest rating: 4 (by pearly)
Highest rating: 7 (by em_fiction)
Rating Percentage

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