Monster review by Mike Long

Since the release of The Silence of the Lambs nearly 15 years ago, we've seen many films which feature serial killers. While the bulk of these films portray the killer as the villain, many glamorize the killer and portray serial killers as intriguing people that would cool to know in real life...the whole murder thing aside. The Oscar-winning film Monster breaks this trend by showing the killer as a desperate individual who's past has created a social pariah.

Charlize Theron gives an Oscar-winning turn in Monster as Aileen Wuornos, a real-life prostitute who lived as a drifter in Central Florida. As the film opens, Aileen is at the end of her rope, and has been contemplating suicide due to the sad state of her life. Seeking refuge from the rain, Aileen meets Shelby (Christina Ricci) in a lesbian bar. Shelby is desperate from companionship, and as Aileen could use a friend and a place to live, she agrees to go home with Shelby. The two then begin a very strange relationship. Although Aileen considers herself straight, she finds comfort with Shelby and begins to realize that men have always hurt her. This odd couple move into a motel together and Aileen decides that she will quit hooking and try to go straight. But, when a john tries to rape Aileen, she strikes back by shooting him. Realizing that she can get money and cars by killing her clients, Aileen goes on a murder spree which leaves six more men dead and sends her and Shelby on a path to destruction.

Due to the kind of movies that I prefer, I rarely see any Oscar nominees before the awards are announced. And, when I do finally see the winning films, I usually fail to understand why they won. Monster is the exception to that rule. Charlize Theron turns in an incredible performance in this film, literally transforming herself into Aileen Wuornos. Along with the 30 pounds which Theron gained for the role, and the special effects make-up and contact lenses which she wears, she has adopted the speech and mannerisms of Wuronos, after studying hours of videotaped footage of the real-life killer. Due to her personal issues (she most likely suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and by the end of her life, she was clearly showing some schizotypal symptoms), Wuornos had a very distinct way of speaking and acting, and Theron has captured this very well. She totally loses herself in the role, and it's very easy to forget that we're watching a woman who is typically very glamorous. Christina Ricci turns in a very good performance as well, straying from the sort of sassy character which she usually plays.

Along with Theron's performance, writer/director Patty Jenkins has crafted a fairly solid bio-pic. The film is told in chronological order, but there are some nice flashes to Aileen's past. Monster is one of those films which gives the audience a sense of "moral suspense", for when the police are closing in on Aileen, part of you wants to see her get away, while another part knows that this killer must be stopped. Due in large part to the acting, Monster is a very intense film and is hard to watch at times -- especially when Aileen goes into one of her rages. Also, the movie is incredibly dark and depressing, and probably wouldn't make for good multiple viewings. My only real problem with the film are the gaps in the story. We learn some about Aileen's past, but not the whole story (more on that in a moment). Also, I couldn't help but wonder what she was doing with the cars of those that she murdered. That nitpicking aside, Monster is a strong film which features some dynamite acting and a look at a very, very sick woman.

Monster bursts onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a fairly solid transfer, although the image looks slightly washed-out at times. The image is sharp and there is only a trace amount of grain on the picture. There is some obvious edge-enhancement, but the artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD features both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, as well as a DTS track. Both provide clear dialogue and show no signs of distortion. Monster has a very interesting sound design and these tracks really show off the creative use of music, surround sound and subwoofer effects -- most notably during the murder scenes.

This DVD contains only a few extra features, most of which aren't that impressive. We start with a "Making of" featurette (15 minutes) which features comments from director Patty Jenkins, as well at Theron and Ricci. This segment does contain some footage of the real Aileen Wuornos, as well as footage of Jenkins scouting the locations where the real-life Wuornos spent time. There is also a section showing Theron's transformation through special effects make-up. The 16-minute "Interview with Patty Jenkins & BT" gives an overview of how composer BT wrote the music for the film, the instruments which he used, and how he used the score to heighten the mood of the movie. In a similar vein, "Film Mixing Demo" allows the viewer to make their own "mix", combining dialogue, sound effects, and music. Finally, the disc contains both the domestic and international trailer for the film, both letterboxed at 1.85:1.

For those of you who don't feel that Monster tells enough of Aileen Wuornos' story, Columbia has also released Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. This is the sequel to director Nick Broomfield's 1992 documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. Here, Broomfield gives us much more information about Aileen's past, much of which is truly disturbing, as it examines the life of someone who was homeless and sexually abused for many years. The doc contains interviews with many of Aileen's friends and relatives, and shows the places where she lived and killed. The movie examines the last months of Aileen's life leading up to her execution and the way that the state of Florida handled her case. The most compelling aspect of this documentary are the interviews with Aileen herself, as we see a woman who was tormented by paranoid thoughts and was ready to die. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer is slightly amateurish at times and has somewhat of a tabloid feel, but it does offer an in-depth look into the life of a murderer.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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