“I always wanted to be in the movies”: ‘Monster’ Review
Based on the true story of notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos (played in a terrific Oscar-winning turn by Charlize Theron), Monster is a fascinating, heartbreaking and thoroughly captivating true crime picture.
Written and directed by Patty Jenkins (who also directed the upcoming Wonder Woman), the film tells the story of Wuornos and how she became a serial killer in the late 1980s and early 1990s along with telling the story of her relationship with Selby Wall (who was inspired by her real-life girlfriend, Tyria Moore). Jenkins structures Monster as both a compassionate love story and the terrifying origin story of a serial killer, and she marvelously pulls off both genres beautifully.
A lot of that is thanks to Theron’s transformative performance as Wuornos – capable of being terrifying, empathetic and darkly funny, sometimes all in one single scene. This is Theron’s Raging Bull, and it shows – she gained 30 pounds for the role and her portrayal of Wuornos is truly among 21st-century cinema’s greatest acting showcases. Theron truly owns every single frame that she inhabits with her incredibly complex performance. The film is also filled with a great supporting cast, including Christina Ricci as Selby and even an excellent turn from Bruce Dern. Ricci and Theron’s scenes crackle with energy, romance and a sense of intimacy that gives Monster an interesting soul. Jenkins shoots the film, thanks to cinematographer Steven Bernstein, with a cinema verite docudrama style that presents Monster as a rich, true-life tale with unforgettable performances and an incredibly compelling portrait within the serial killer genre.
One of the things that makes Monster so enthralling is the fact that Jenkins can balance both romance and horror, and much like Theron herself, she pulls it off sometimes in one scene. What Jenkins also does well is that she starts off by showing us the lighter aspect of Wuornos’ life, which of course entails her relationship with Selby whom she meets a bar in one of the film’s first scenes, which then allows her to explore how she became a serial killer in Florida. Of course, Wuornos became known as a serial killer who would lure johns and offer them her services as a prostitute only to kill them before the act. Those scenes are the ones that Jenkins and Theron go out of their way to portray as truly brutal and raw. The juggling act becomes even more impressive when Jenkins has a scene between Wuornos and Selby in a roller rink set to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and it's oddly poignant and sweet (which in turn makes the ending all the more heartbreaking – without giving anything away). That’s when you realize that Monster’s tone shifts are marvelous to behold.
Monster remains a truly compelling character study thanks to strong direction from Patty Jenkins, a committed supporting cast and a mesmerizing turn by Charlize Theron. It’s a fascinating true crime story that is cinematic, engrossing and terrifically acted. It’s a unique showcase and one of the best performances of the 2000s – one that becomes richer and richer as the years go by thanks to Theron’s complex portrayal of Wuornos.