Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 09/29/03 13:50:25

"Nick Broomfield's latest is weak from start to finish."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Nick Broomfield is a really love him or hate him inclusion into the pantheon of documentary filmmakers. His work can be every bit as compelling as that of Errol Morris at times, but at other times his films borders on the farcical. One of his earlier films, Kurt and Courtney, was a work that was rich in intriguing facts and journalistic digging, but was spoiled in the end by giving way too much time to total nutcases who, while certainly funny, wouldn't help you win any court cases if you had to rely on their sanity. In Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Broomfield turns from exposer of truth to a Barbara Walters-style TV interviewer, seemingly prepared to hang his hat on the achievement of having scored the last interview with a serial killer before she's put to death by the state. The only catch? Broomfield's already made an Aileen Wuornos documentary, so why roll her old bones out for a part 2?

Aileen Wuornos is a total nutbar, no question. She killed eight men while working as a Florida freeway prostitute, blamed each of them on self defense, and was duly sentenced to multiple death sentences. For a while there, the Christian freak-out posse were demanding she be let off, "because she's a Christian now," but nobody was really surprised when they injected the poison into her veins on a metal table in a high security prison - mostly because Aileen wanted to die.

Nick Broomfield enters the scene where he left off on his previous Wuornos doco, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, only this time he's been subpoenaed to appear in a court appeal by Aileen's friends and family to ask for a retrial due to her previous attorney's lameness. For those that weren't introduced to 'Dr Legal' in the last film, he's a shot, middle-aged hippy lawyer with a massive afro, no fax machine, and a penchant for smoking doobies while on his way to court. He was living in a tent when he took on Aileen's case. Dr Legal then advised her that she should plead guilty to all charges so as to avoid the death penalty...

And she subsequently ended up with four death penalties.

So Broomfield is asked to appear, and thus begins what could best be called 'making lemonade out of lemons'. Since he has to be there, clearly Broomfield has opted to make the best of a bad situation and crank out another film on the topic. The problem is there's nothing really here to add to the initial round of documentary film.

Sure, Broomfield discovers that Aileen lived in the woods for two years, and was a hooker at age 13. He also finds her mothers and talks to her about the old days. But then what? Plenty of recapping of the previous film, plenty of footage of Broomfield again making himself the star of someone else's show, and the real feeling that the filmmaker seems to think that his journey is as important as his subject's.

This is a film that hinges on a very precarious notion - that it's wrong to put someone to death if they're mad. You may agree or disagree with that ideology, but as Broomfield himself admits early in his new film, the US Supreme Court has said it isn't unconstitutional to put a mentally defective person to death for their crimes.

So why do we then spend an hour listening to Aileen babbling on insanely about sonic pulses being sent into her head, and cops who knew she was going to kill before she did? Sure, she's nuts, she contradicts herself and sabotages her own defense, but she's been sentenced to death, and she's volunteering to go and asking her family not to interfere.

And even if there were one or two incidents that were self defense situations... who gets into eight near death experiences in a few years that require the victim to shoot someone in the face? I could spend a year in a South Central county lock-up and not get involved in as many 'self defense' situations as Aileen Wuornos.

Sure, maybe it's wrong that some states in the US prefer to kill a killer than figure them out. Maybe we should be doing more to help those with a brain malfunction get help. But we should also be driving more fuel-conscious cars and cleaning our rivers and worrying about huge chunks of the polar icecaps falling into the sea and CEOs of vote-counting equipment companies who pledge themselves to 'deliver votes to the Republican party'... but do we?

Aileen Wuornos is dead. And just as Nick Broomfield's last documentary pointed a harsh light on those who would profit from her death sentence, so too does Broomfield stray into their territory with his latest film, giving a broken woman one final humiliation from way beyond the grave.

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