Monster

Movie Review #896

monster

Premiered in the USA on December 17, 2003. Released in New York City, New York on December 24, 2003. Released in Los Angeles, California on December 26, 2003. Limited release on January 9, 2004. Nationwide release on January 30, 2004. Biography/Crime/Drama. This film is rated R for strong violence and sexual content, and for pervasive language. Runs 109 minutes. American-German co-production. Director: Patty Jenkins. Written by: Patty Jenkins. Cast: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, and Lee Tergesen.

THERON’S PERFORMANCE IS AT A LEVEL FEW GREAT ACTORS AND ACTRESSES CAN REACH. THE REST OF THE MOVIE, HOWEVER, ISN’T QUITE SO BRILLIANT.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

“I remember I was just a kid and the 4H club set up this beautiful gigantic wheel and let up to nite sky. We call it the Monster. When I was a kid I thought this was about the coolest thing I ever seen. Then I couldn’t wait to ride it. Sure enough, I finally got my chance, I got so scared and nauseous, I threw up all over myself before it made a full turn.” – Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in “Monster”

Watching Charlize Theron transform into Aileen Wuornos is disturbing, painful, and at the same time, wonderful. Theron leaves no trace of her actual self, or her other characters, in this role. She put on 30 pounds and wore prosthetic teeth for the role, and as a result, she bears endlessly more resemblance to the real Aileen Wuornos than to herself. But that’s just a small part of it. Theron has never given a better performance in a movie. Maybe a dozen actors have given a better performance in all of cinema’s history.

What’s best about this performance is that we’re drawn into the character and the fact that she is a character to this movie. We’re led to immediately ignore the title card that reads “Based on a True Story” and to treat Aileen Wuornos as if she were merely the center of a fable. The story is clearly “Taxi Driver”-inspired, and it follows in those footsteps. Not since Travis Bickle’s incarnation in 1976 has a movie character blurred the lines between hero and villain so well.

But Aileen Wuornos is not simply a movie character. She was an actual woman, a highway prostitute since the age of 13. She was put on Death Row in the early ’90s for murdering six men who had paid for sex with her, and finally executed in 2002. As our sympathy begins to detach from this character, so does her own logic. With the exception of the first murder (an act of self-defense), it’s difficult to tell what Wuornos’s motives are. Noting her asocial, misanthropic, misandrist nature, is she disgusted by men to the point of violence? Noting that she is living with her lover Shelby (Christina Ricci) in an apartment, is she doing so in order to take every dollar out of her clients’ wallets? Is killing just an impulse for her? Does she legitimately believe that every murder she commits is self-defense, as she later stated in court?

Even without these motives, however, “Monster” remains a very psychological movie. It’s mainly due to Theron’s delivery, which I have already elaborated on and cannot possibly explain well enough. The movie is flawed. It could’ve used a somewhat stronger script, a longer ending, and a more likable supporting performance than Ricci’s. Theron’s delivery is not the whole movie, and as memorable as her performance is, it is perhaps all the movie is (and ever will be) remembered for. There were probably two or three items in the movie that stuck out to me other than this singular performance, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what they were.

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