6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Good acting, but does it really get under the skin?,
This review is from: Monster (Two Discs) [DVD]  (DVD)Aileen Wuornos became America's most notorious serial killer, demonised by the tabloid press. A female serial killer? There were many to condemn her ... or to profit from her case. Nick Broomfield made two films about Wuornos ("The Selling of a Serial Killer" exposes the way her case was exploited by lawyers, policemen, politicians, and hangers-on, "Aileen, Life and Death of a Serial Killer", follows her as she awaits execution and offers a commentary on her life and crimes).
Writer-director Patty Jenkin's sets out to destroy the image of Wuornos as a 'monster'. She is, we discover, a victim of an abusive childhood, a lonely, lost stray condemned to eke out a loveless living as a prostitute, forever brutalised by the men who use her. Into her life comes a lonely, loveless lesbian, running away from home.
As their relationship flares and Wuornos discovers love for the first time, she has to question her relationship with men. Nobody will give her a job - she's unqualified for anything, is humiliated in her attempts to get off the street. So she is propelled back into prostitution, where things now take an explosive turn as she begins to defend herself with a gun ... then goes on to exact retribution against males for the abuses she has suffered.
But the film plunges straight into the action. You get glimpses of Wuornos' abusive past. You can empathise with her killing for the first time, after she is subjected to a brutal rape by one of her clients ... and anticipates worse to come. You can see the escalation in violence and the hideous logic in which she finds herself trapped, killing to raise money to sustain the only love she's known.
But somehow, the actual narrative doesn't work. In life, Wuornos was violently abused by men, including her close relatives; she was forced to live in the woods like an animal when she was 13. She turned to crime and prostitution to survive. And the Broomfield films reveal her to be deeply psychotic, convinced she was controlled by radio or that Christ would send a spaceship to carry her off to safety. You don't get any of this depth or any sound analysis in the film "Monster".
Charlize Theron is excellent in the lead role. She captures Wuornos' mannerisms and physicality superbly. Christina Ricci is equally good as her lover. Unfortunately, much of the hype about the film concentrated on the makeup and physical changes Theron had to undergo to play the part - obliterating her glamorous image and looks to appear tawdry and cheap. You sense, also, that the violence and mental torment in Wuornos's character have also been sanitised, playing down her confused state to make her actions appear more rational.
Nick Broomfield demonstrates how murder is a gateway to celebrity in the USA - Aileen Wuornos became almost a brand name, and a small industry grew up to market her. But it's all about the selling of image, reducing her history to easily digested, easily understood packages. As a Probation Officer, I've worked with a lot of serious offenders: trying to understand what makes them tick is a complex task. "Monster" doesn't quite achieve this. Theron might get into Wuornos' skin, but the story never fully gets under it. As entertainment, it's a very good movie. As a piece of social analysis, or social realism, or criminological inquiry ... it has severe weaknesses.
The two disc version offers lengthy documentaries on the real Wuornos and the usual features on the making of the film. It slurs slightly into self-congratulation when it might have made a more intensive inquiry into the woman and her judicial murder ... sorry, execution. But it's a good production, overall. If I have reservations about the narrative and the effectiveness of the story in presenting Wuornos to the world, I have no reservations about the acting. It is a tale which will engage and entertain ... but don't forget to ask questions afterwards.
Perhaps the real worth of the movie is that it does inspire you to look for more information and to delve into the case a little deeper - in which case, I'd suggest you begin by looking at the Nick Broomfield films. However, you then start to wonder if you're turning into a voyeur, if you're simply contributing to the cult of notoriety / celebrity?