Review of "Monster" (2003) DVD

Review of "Monster" (2003) DVD
"Monster" (2003) - Director: Patty Jenkins - Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern.
Updated: 06-02-2004

A beautiful woman turning herself physically ugly in pursuit of the almighty Oscar is nothing new. When Charlize Theron won the coveted golden statue for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, "America's first female serial killer",  most everyone agreed that it was richly deserved. Indeed, she earned her Oscar for much more than an outer change. Her mannerisms, her voice, her wild-eyed look… are all Aileen, all the time.

In the beginning credits of Monster, we are given a brief overview of the early life of Aileen. It's a quick montage, and one that's better served if you already have some knowledge of the subject. She had a hard and cruel childhood beset with physical and sexual abuse, was plagued by drugs and brotherly incest, and finally become a prostitute -- and pregnant -- by the age of 13. Aileen eventually left cold and snowy Michigan for the sunny shores of Florida where she became a highway hooker, servicing anyone who'd give her a few dollars.

Monster focuses on the 9-month period in 1989 and 1990 during which she had a lesbian relationship with a needy, immature woman named Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, playing a renamed - and by far more beautiful - Tyria Moore)… and during which she also began murdering her clientele. In real life, Aileen flip-flopped on whether or not these killings were in self-defense - the movie compromises, showing the first one as self-defense and the rest as murders for money.

Although the story of any cold-blooded murderer, and a serial killer in particular, certainly qualifies as "horror", Monster focuses on Aileen as a person and what might have driven her to turn her rage outward. The killings are brutal, but not dwelt on or glorified in any way. While I feel that Monster may have been too soft on Aileen's crimes and stumbles here and there on the narrative trail, there's no denying that writer-director Patty Jenkins had a distinct, singular vision and she followed it through from beginning to end.

While Theron's stunning transformation and performance sucked up all the accolades, Ricci is also quite wonderful. Her performance is subtle and she's saddled with playing an unlikable character but it's an admirable effort that flies just under the radar. Bruce Dern has a very small but memorable role as an alcoholic war vet, and the superb Pruitt Taylor Vince has a short stint as one of Aileen's johns.

Monster shows how a series of betrayals can damage and eventually break an already fragile psyche. Everyone from Aileen's mother (who abandoned her as a baby) to Selby (who ultimately turned her in to the law) betrayed her. One of the final scenes, which depicts the phone call during which Selby entrapped Aileen into confessing, is extremely powerful. Aileen took the fall for everything and absolved Selby -- who was certainly an accomplice toward the end -- of any wrongdoing. Even though it may look like a Hollywood ending, in fact Aileen did take the blame for everything and even went so far as to send Tyria money while she was on death row. In this aspect, Monster offers a rare glimpse into her life as a regular human being; monster or not, she too longed to love and be loved.

Monster is often slow and rambling, but it's still essential viewing for anyone who is interested in another dimension of this repellant and fascinating character. And it's definitely worth seeing for Theron, who deserved her Oscar for so much more than just her physical abandon.

The DVD extras offer US and International trailers, a Making of featurette (which shows the makeup transformation), two featurettes on the music lauding the composer, BT.

Monster is being released in tandem with the 2003 documentary, Alieen: Life & Death of a Serial Killer. Excellent idea, as both films are not only worth watching, they're worth watching together.

Review by Staci Layne Wilson for

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