Rating 4

Written and directed by Patty Jenkins

Starring Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Annie Corley and Bruce Dern

Well, that was certainly grim viewing.

Charlize Theron plays the Aileen Wuornos, who was allegedly America’s first real-life “female serial killer”, in a story based on her relationship with Tyria Moore (here portrayed by Christina Ricci via the character Selby Wall) and her killing of seven men.

Wuornos was a tabloids dream; not only was she a “freeway whore”, a prostitute who picked up her customers along the freeways of Daytona Beach, she was also a “man-hating lesbian”. The documentary-maker Nick Broomfield made two films about the case, ‘Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer’ (1992) and ‘Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer’ (2003). He filmed the very last interview with Wuornos, conducted the day before her execution by lethal injection on 9 October 2002.

‘Monster’ paints a generally sympathetic portrait of Wuornos. It doesn’t shy away from her aggressive personality and troubled life, but it suggests mitigating circumstances that go some way towards explaining why she went on a killing spree between 30 November 1989 and 19 November 1990, starting when she was 33 years old. Although references are made to her early life, it does tend to gloss over a lot of the detail, which does skew the facts somewhat.

The film is best known for the central performance of Charlize Theron, or perhaps more to the point the fact that the “world’s most beautiful actress” put on 30 pounds and wore prosthetic teeth, making herself “ugly” to closer match Wuornos. We must remember that Wuornos was “female”, a “prostitute” and “serial killer”, and a “lesbian”. Therefore, combining these four things, she was clearly “ugly”. The film is not guilty of this, but general opinion about Wuornos most certainly is.

Roger Ebert called Theron’s performance, “One of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.” She won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best actress, as well as thirteen other awards in 2003 and 2004.

I cannot not help but think her performance occasionally slips into impersonation, but it would be churlish of me to be too critical. She is superb and provides much-needed proof that male actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Robert De Niro do not hold exclusive rights to so-called “big acting”.

In some ways, I was more impressed by the performance of Christina Ricci, even though she rather became sidelined by the effusive critical reaction to Theron. Having largely lost track of Ricci’s career after the likes of ‘Buffalo 66’ and ‘Sleepy Hollow’, I saw her again recently when I watched the disappointing Wes Craven film ‘Cursed’. She seemed to be doing little more than going through the motions on that occasion, so it was good to see her in ‘Monster’, proving once again what a fine actor she is.

‘Monster’ is an unrelentingly grim portrait of a woman who lived a hellish existence for all of her life and was ultimately pushed over the edge when she finally found the love she had been so desperately seeking. Simply viewed as a story told in the medium of film it is a tremendous piece of work and highly recommended. Viewed as something based on fact, it should be taken as one somewhat unreliable interpretation of a very complex story, but equally it serves to further highlight the continued unacceptable attitudes towards lesbians and women in general.

The film grossed a little over $60 million worldwide at the box office against a production budget of $8 million.

HQ stills taken from

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