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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 22%
Average: 15%
Pretty Bad: 3%
Total Crap: 11%

5 reviews, 70 user ratings

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by Collin Souter

"A series of 'Oscar clips,' but not in a good way"
3 stars

Seeing a movie more than once can sometimes be a bad idea. If you have a fond memory, or at the very least, a decent one that others put into question, you should probably just leave it at that and move on. I could not really do that in the case of “Monster.” I saw it once a few weeks ago and thought it to be a wonderfully acted portrayal of two women at a point in their lives when they finally had a clear view of their world and how to survive it and how their past dictates that mode of survival. I still agree with the second part. The “wonderfully acted” part has recently—upon second viewing, mind you—come into question.

Why did I go back a second time? To write a fair review, for one thing. I had seen at least a dozen movies since my first viewing of “Monster” and thought it would be fair to view it once again. Also, two prominent film critics here in Chicago have had severely polarized reactions to Charlize Theron’s performance. One calls it “one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.” The other claims it to be one of the most poorly calculated, unnatural and forced performances of all time. Upon first viewing, I thought Theron’s performance was fierce and worthy of award considerations.

I should back up a bit. I have never been a fan of Theron’s. To me, she has always been something of a void. She has never really stood out in a movie. She has always been there to fill a hole, but even when there I still see a hole that needs filling. She exudes sheer blandness and fills me with nothing but inertia. I look at the screen and I think, “Yes, that’s a woman and her name is Charlize Theron. Pass the poppers, please. Thank you. I’m going to the restroom. Do you need anything? Yes, that’s Charlize Theron.”

Along came “Monster” and, low and behold, she kept me watching her, paying attention to her, something I have never been able to do before. It might be because it looks nothing like her. For the role of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron packed on 40 pounds and had a make-up job to make herself look unattractive and unkempt. This is usually the mark of an actor who wants to put on a show for us rather than a performance and now that I have viewed the film a second time, the show has turned into a distraction, one that cannot be denied.

It is neither one of the greatest nor one of the worst performances I’ve seen. At its best, Theron exudes the sheer torment of what it must be like to be Aileen, a woman who has grown up around nothing but abuse from her family and every boy at school. Now an adult, Aileen earns money by turning tricks for any sorry sack looking for a quickie in a station wagon. The movie starts with a tiny picture of Aileen as a child as Theron narrates about always wanting to be in the movies and, as a child, living in a fantasy world when life got too rough. As we see the truth unfold—the abuse—the picture gets bigger and bigger until we see Aileen as an adult living on the streets.

One night in a gay bar (though she insists she’s not gay), Aileen meets Selby (Christina Ricci), a loner who hits on her. Eventually, Aileen goes home with Selby and the two form a friendship that eventually turns to love. One night, Aileen decides to turn a few tricks to make some extra cash, but a trick soon turns into a rape, which, of course, turns into a murder, that of Aileen murdering her client/rapist. Without telling Selby about the murder, Aileen persuades Selby to move out of her relatives' home in which she has been staying. The two end up living together at a motel unsure of what their next move will be. That would be your cue to shout, “Like ‘Thelma & Louise,’ right?”

Right, I guess, except that there exists a higher body count. In order to survive, Aileen continues to meet men, drive out to the middle of nowhere, rob them and kill them, unbeknownst to Selby, who waits around the motel wondering how to survive on so little money. Eventually, it comes out that murders have been taking place in order to ensure their survival together. Aileen tries to go straight by applying for jobs as a secretary, but that goes predictably nowhere.

“Monster”—based on a true story and a decent debut from director Patty Jenkins—seems to be trying the sympathetic approach to its subjects. In the end, it is about how the past dictates one’s survival instincts. Aileen learns about prostitution at an early age as a mode of survival. She looks back on it and finds that she has been doomed to this life all along. Selby has been disowned by her family after they learned that she tried to kiss a girl. She survives by letting people tell her what to do. She goes to church with her adoptive family because they persuade her to. She falls under the spell of Aileen because Aileen possesses those same powers of persuasion. Unable to think for herself in most situations, Selby has never really grown up.

As Selby, Ricci has been well cast simply because we have watched her grow up since “Mermaids” and “The Addams Family” movies. After her gutsy celluloid transitions to adulthood in “The Ice Storm” and “The Opposite of Sex,” Ricci has had a bumpy road as an actress. Good in some movies (“The Man Who Cried”) while awful in others (“Pumpkin”). Here, she maintains Selby’s childishness very well, convincingly (90% of the time) depicting a character forever on the verge of adulthood, but never fully there. In a scene near the final act that takes place at a bus station, Ricci gives probably the best performance of her career.

But then there’s Theron. As I said, she has some great moments, but they mostly involve little to no dialogue, save for her final act of mercilessness. Much of the time, though, Theron gets way too showy. Her performance consists of twitches, stammering, flipping her hair back and widening her eyes. How did that critic put it? Yes, calculated. It’s a performance from a woman who has finally figured out what wins the attention of Oscar voters (lack of vanity, troubled souls and living in the lower-middle class) and does everything she can to pander to them, almost as though trying to determine ahead of time which scene will be her Oscar clip. As a result, Aileen often ends up being more of a caricature.

Theron co-produced this film and obviously felt a strong need to bring Aileen’s story to the screen. I’m not sure why, really. I can’t say we have many good reasons to care about a scumbag woman who listens to Jiffy Lube rock (Journey, REO Speedwagon, etc.) and kills a lot of scumbag men. It isn’t a bad movie, just insignificant, really. I’m also not sure why I didn’t notice Theron’s mugging upon first viewing. I’ll never know, but I do believe both critics are overreacting a bit. I also know that I can sleep with a clear conscience knowing that I never put her on my Best Actress ballot to begin with. As far as doomed, tormented personalities go, I’m sticking with the great Angela Bettis in “May.” Multiple times.

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originally posted: 01/09/04 16:43:22
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User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell disturbing well acted film 4 stars
3/24/12 Mabel Excellent film with a powerful lead performance. I highly recommend it (for adults only). 5 stars
9/11/11 Captain00Kirk Strong performances in a strong, gritty film. 5 stars
11/17/09 Stephanie Garcia very sad story. 4 stars
10/23/09 Rachel It was an alright movie, but I wouldn't watch it more than once. 3 stars
8/13/08 Shaun Wallner Well Made! 5 stars
4/25/08 beau ricci and theron were no doubt outstanding. made really well 4 stars
12/23/07 what is everyone's problem? Charlize deserved that oscar. it was as though she was another person in that fillm. 4 stars
12/15/07 Erika UNBELIEVABLY GREAT MOVIE! Charlize was AMAZING! 5 stars
1/30/07 David Pollastrini Normally Theron and Ricci would be hot 5 stars
1/09/07 Drew Galletti Besides Theron's ugly acting, there is nothing of note about this movie 1 stars
1/09/07 CJBlalock Scary what women are capable of if they're abused enough. 5 stars
6/14/06 Lisa Great acting. Fantastic make up. Fascinating story. 5 stars
4/11/06 RUDY GOOD STORY 4 stars
1/02/06 cody a great story but the flim didn't keep me interested through, but charlize gives great perf 3 stars
10/01/05 wil j. Ricci played it near perfectly 5 stars
9/09/05 Vince Very interesting performance by Theron. 4 stars
9/03/05 tatum Theron great, but Ricci's character is all wrong 4 stars
8/19/05 ES Theron acted just like Wuornos, but the story is terrible & she's a B blonde actor at best 1 stars
8/03/05 Sean Davis Charlize Theron brings female acting to a new level. Well deserved Oscar. 5 stars
7/06/05 Pinkline Jones Ricci just as outstanding 4 stars
7/03/05 Eddie Good story 4 stars
7/02/05 Indrid Cold Somewhat overrated, but still Theron is fascinating. 4 stars
3/23/05 clinger26 oh god no, oh jesus, jesus christ no.. ugh ugh 1 stars
2/15/05 Mikey This movie is so bad, don't spend your money on it 1 stars
2/05/05 xxplosive Waste of time and money, total crap. 1 stars
1/15/05 Jeff Anderson A great, great film. Charlize Theron deserved her Oscar for her absolute triumph of acting. 5 stars
12/23/04 Nick Boyd Charlize Theron gives an unforgetable performance 5 stars
10/13/04 TheOthersFan depressing 5 stars
10/13/04 Kyle I've no problem with Theron winning the Oscar for this performance. GREAT! 5 stars
7/25/04 lissa it was an awesome move!!! 5 stars
7/21/04 Steve Adams Charlize Theron rocks! 4 stars
7/21/04 April Gupton great performance, but wow was she hard to look at 4 stars
7/20/04 geno vezina reality can be a painful experience to watch and this film packs a wallop. 5 stars
7/18/04 Richard not so good 2 stars
7/18/04 Onyeabo Monago I think Charlize gave a spooky great performance! 4 stars
7/17/04 legend An amazing performance by Charlize Theron as a killer. 5 stars
7/09/04 Melissa McCord Not that good. A little too weird 2 stars
7/08/04 Denise good story but she got the award because she looked like crap 3 stars
6/29/04 Elena Amaro Good movie 5 stars
6/24/04 maryann excellent movie kept me watching deff 5 stars
6/21/04 silver10 this was hard to watch. i felt bad when she shot father time after he saw she had a gun. 4 stars
6/07/04 BooBoo Very Good. Theron deserved her Oscar 5 stars
5/30/04 Blakers a great film I loved it. 5 stars
4/11/04 Alan Liddle Over done 3 stars
3/30/04 Arlene Titshaw I wish charlize theron had her oscar, golden globe, etc all up her ass! 1 stars
3/29/04 Veronica It was one of the best movies I've ever seen. 5 stars
3/22/04 john bale Theron and Ricci brilliant as Thelma and Louise from Hell. Gritty and powerful stuff. 5 stars
3/20/04 Matthew Smith Theron is Outstanding in one of the year's best 5 stars
3/19/04 michelle charlize is so beautiful .. but nicole is going to be a better actress you guys! 5 stars
3/13/04 Cheryl Conway Think, Jenna! One can't eat out what one doesn't have! 1 stars
3/12/04 Jenna Furr CT sweeps Bst Actrss "awards" in ultimate ballbusting role. Eat yur heart out, Ashley Judd! 1 stars
2/27/04 Reini Urban Really an experience. Never saw anyone better than Theron, and I saw a lot. 5 stars
2/26/04 me awesome 5 stars
2/15/04 Maximus Stellar performance from Theron 5 stars
2/06/04 LIAM JACKSON Aileen's 'victims' were evil scum that tried to rape her.she is no monster, shes a hero! 5 stars
2/05/04 Charlize seems to overact, but perhaps the real Aileen was like that. Escargot 3 stars
2/04/04 Wendy Carpenter In spite of itself, reveals that Aileen Wuornos WAS a murderous monster, pure and simple. 2 stars
2/01/04 Bill Teommey Bok Choy nails it. Life dealt the murderer cards that made her ending inevitable. 5 stars
1/31/04 malcolm Theron was brilliant, but an average film overall, it's no 'Boys Don't Cry' 3 stars
1/28/04 Mucki It was alright, although it made me squirm in my seat 3 stars
1/24/04 ROY L. CAIN,JR. Strong performances from Ms. Theron & Ms. Ricci. Cheers! 5 stars
1/21/04 smartmusician Shows partially Aileen Wurro's life 3 stars
1/20/04 DHite Good. It's impressive when a movie can make a murderer look even slightly sypmathetic 4 stars
1/12/04 Lethal Injection was too good for Aileen Wuornos She should have been made to choke to death on her own shit! 1 stars
1/11/04 Collin Souter Thanks for the criticism, SOCS. Next time, please send an email. 3 stars
1/11/04 Shame on Collin Souter There ARE evil women! Time to call THEM "scumbags", not their victims! 1 stars
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  24-Dec-2003 (R)
  DVD: 25-Jan-2005



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