Monster (2003)
Directed by Patty Jenkins

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a homeless prostitute, is planning to kill herself, but decides to spend her last five dollars before doing so. She makes her way to a gay bar and there meets Selby (Christina Ricci), a lonely young woman desperate for companionship. The two soon begin a relationship and move into a hotel room together. Their situation is, however, complicated when Aileen starts killing her johns.

While I will admit that I have never been a great admirer of excessively realistic movies, especially those "based on true events," a tag which is invariably either distracting or irrelevant, I did enjoy Patty Jenkins' Monster. The director and the two leads have all done fine jobs of making this story of a harsh, violent protagonist and her younger accomplice both engaging and touching.


Before praising the movie, I should note that it is not without flaws. Visually, Monster is never remarkable. In fact, it is unlikely that the viewer will ever be particularly impressed by any of the images that the director presents to him. Moreover, some of the incidents expose details of the characters' lives in a rather heavy-handed way. The discrimination Aileen faces when attempting to change her life is, for instance, too obviously depicted. These scenes do have a ring of truth to them, but they are entirely lacking in subtlety. Sadly, some of the supporting characters are even more crudely delineated.

Despite such shortcomings, there is so much in Monster that is enticing, whether in a charming or in a repellent way, that the movie is sure to enthrall the viewer.

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Most importantly, the director makes her two central characters sympathetic, no matter how unpleasant their actions may be. Instead of crudely dividing her cinematic world between the good and the evil, Jenkins reveals moral ambiguities, asks often disturbing, uncomfortable questions, and exposes the humanity of even the most violent and cruel of persons. For such accomplishments alone she is deserving of praise.

What is more, although the director has allowed a few of the performers appearing in minor roles to turn their parts into caricatures, as has already been noted, both Theron and Ricci are joys to watch. The two really are captivating. The former presents the viewer with an uneducated, unhappy woman who struts like a teenaged boy, repeatedly putting on airs of masculinity and toughness, while exposing the underlying pain that prompts such behaviors. As a consequence of this portrayal, the woman does not emerge as some stereotyped villain or embodiment of "white trash." She comes across as a genuinely tragic individual whose actions, terrible as they undoubtedly are, have been caused by a horrific life. As fascinating as Theron is to watch, she never outshines her co-star. Ricci's work is just as accomplished. She reveals Selby's youthful enthusiasm for experiences yet to be had, as well as that woman's fears, foolishness, and selfishness. The character, so enlivened by these traits, comes across as a likeable, flawed, engaging, and wonderfully exasperating individual. I cannot laud either of the principles enough for their work here.

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I will not claim that Monster is a great film, but it is a touching, disturbing, and mesmerizing one.

Review by Keith Allen

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