DIRECTED BY Patty Jenkins
STARRING Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci
Opens April 2, Cert 15, 109 mins
Apparently, this writer wasn't the only one who spent the first few minutes of Monster wondering when Charlize Theron was going to make an appearance on screen. Her physical transformation into the role of Aileen Wuornos, serial killer in the making, must be the most drastic since De Niro's bloated gross-out in Raging Bull. With disfiguring dentures, 30 pounds of flab and a complexion like decaying gorgonzola, there isn't a trace of the glamorous, blonde Charlize we've come to know and not take much notice of. Theron's track record hasn't suggested bold artistic ambition, but as the Oscar voters recognised, there's a desperate intensity about her performance here that hints at a giant hinterland waiting to be discovered.
Wuornos, a homeless prostitute, was convicted in 1992 for killing six men, and had become a national cause célèbre by the time of her execution in Florida in 2002, as well as the subject of two documentaries by Nick Broomfield.
Writer/director Patty Jenkins' dramatisation rewinds to the period leading up to her transformation from hooker to murderer, and conveys an authentic sense of a squalid and marginal life rolling inexorably towards a morbid end. It isn't comfortable viewing. The subject matter is ugly, Wuornos' relationship with friend Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) is corroded by a sense of impending disaster, and Theron plays Wuornos as a feral, barely socialised character. Loud, ugly and probably mentally unstable, she squares up to men in bars with a strutting, square-shouldered swagger that would send Mike Tyson fleeing into the night. Ricci subtly plays Wall as a misfit-soulmate who's holding enough of herself back to value her own preservation above Wuornos', and Aileen's loyalty to her emerges as her one redeeming trait.
Jenkins' touch is mostly assured, but she skates on thin ice by making a facile join-the-dots connection between Wuornos' broken, abused background and her multiple killings. Wuornos is driven to kill her first victim when he rapes and beats her, which trips her into a nothing-to-lose slaughter-fest. But Jenkins' equation that prostitution+violent men=mass murder is too simplistic, more like a care-worker's lament than true dramatic insight.
Still, this is a breakthrough for Theron, and mostly the film grips with alligator jaws.
Rating: 4 / 10