Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson, Rus Blackwell, Tim Ware, Stephan Jones, Brett Rice, Kaitlin Riley, Cree Ivey
Written by: Patty Jenkins
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and sexual content, and for pervasive language
Running Time: 109
Date: 11/16/2003

Monster (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cold Serial

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Monster, Charlize Theron packs on a few extra pounds, slaps on some awful teeth, strips off her makeup, bugs out her eyes and sweats, cries and screams her way through this extraordinary showcase performance as prostitute turned serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Written and directed by Patty Jenkins, it's hard to recall anything else from this film except for Theron. She's the center of everything, and Jenkins rarely strays from her. We never see footage of Wuornos' parents fretting about her or the police putting clues together. It's her world and everyone else just lives in it. And so Monster both succeeds and fails because of its own intensity. Because the film filters everything else out but Theron/Wuornos, the performance becomes the end-all, be-all of the film.

But Theron is so good that she draws attention to the performance, even as the thin, pretty Hollywood star from The Italian Job disappears completely. It's a showstopper, a fantastic audition tape, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. If any emotion comes through it's almost as if by accident, as if the sheer thrill of her passionate playing somehow rubbed off on us.

Wournos begins her downfall when she meets a passive, nearly helpless girl, Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) in a bar. The two women fall in love and Wall soon comes to depend on Wournos for financial support. Wournos tries to give up hooking for a straight job, but fails and goes back to hooking. When a dangerous john ties her up and rapes her, she kills him and takes his money, thus beginning a dangerous new cycle.

It will be interesting to look at Monster in retrospect. Surely Theron will take home the Oscar for this performance. No one else this year stands a chance of pleasing the Academy quite as much. Theron has always shown competence in a series of films ranging from good to forgettable, and so this huge leap to Monster almost comes as a shock.

Will Theron continue to get pretty, passive roles after this? Will Monster be an anomaly in her career? If not, what kind of roles could she possibly follow up with? Indeed, Monster is a fascinating experiment, and probably an important milestone in Theron's life story. More so than Monster itself, watching this actress's career from here on out will really be something.

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