More noise than signal

Monster

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Aileen Wuornos is a serial killer. That’s a serial killer in the real live, world outside a cinema sense. As such, this film about her life and crimes has to follow the real life events to some fair degree, which sadly precludes car chases, shootouts and contractually obligated rooftop finalés. The story behind the seven killings Aileen was eventually sentenced to the fatal sit-down dance in penitentiary is a trifle more mundane, and wouldn’t be very watchable at all were it not for a deservedly plaudit laden performance by Charlize Theron.

I’ve never liked relating the plotlines of real life adaptations due to the often inevitable discrepancies. That said, any interested parties may want to take the following with a pinch of salt as I’m currently too lazy and queasy to do any extensive fact checking. With a troubled early life chock full of abuse and suffering Aileen is out on the streets hooking to scrape by. Jump to the fashion disaster of 1989, with Aileen negotiating affection up and down the highways of Florida. Sick of it all, she decides to do away with herself after one last beer in a gay bar.

Something unexpected happens, as she meets and strikes a chord with innocent youngster Selby (Christina Ricci). Aileen eventually finds something that’s eluded her for her whole life – love. Quite a scary, intense love actually, and Aileen convinces Selby to leave the bible bashing friends of her parents who are attempting to ‘straighten’ her out and live with her in a cheap hotel room.

Aileen makes a determined but rather fanciful effort at going straight, but soon hunger forces her back on the streets to support not only herself but Selby too. With the stress of her situation mounting, things reach a new low after a punter attempts to rape Aileen. She shoots him. Hiding the evidence, she tries to continue on as normal but this is just the start of her murders. She’s eventually caught after killing six more men.

Monster never paints Aileen as a Manson-esque psycho, nor a wisecrack spitting urbane Hannibal. She’s a woman who thinks that she doesn’t have any choice in her actions, and no matter how misguided that makes her it gives Theron a good base to launch a believable portrayal from. Is it a flattering portrayal? Hardly. While there’s almost an attempt to show that she only kills people she considers ‘bad’ it’s also patently obvious that she’s in no condition to judge who’s ‘bad’ or not, inventing tumultuous and sordid back stories for her victims at the drop of a fedora.

Theron has been praised to the rafters and even Oscared, to invent a verb, for her performance and it’s absolutely correct to do so. Tackling a very difficult subject matter and showing a healthy disregard for the usual Hollywood conventions that all actresses must be astonishingly beautiful at all times, Theron makes a solid case for being the best actress working at the moment of the strength of Monster alone. Without descending into an overblown portrayal, she brings a scary degree of intensity to all of Aileen’s actions which makes her character feel both real and really dangerous.

Ricci’s sheepish Selby is almost swept under the film’s carpet towards the final reels, although she does have a chance early doors to show a sweet and innocent girl looking for acceptance, vulnerable and lonely. While Theron steals the headlines it’s perhaps a shade unfair for another fine performance to be practically ignored, especially given the vanishing small roles that ended up picking up an Oscar nomination. This movie is almost entirely recommended on the quality of the acting. In terms of actual entertainment value, it’s worth is a little more questionable.

Simple fact; the story isn’t terribly gripping or exciting. True to reality it may be, but as everyone’s probably figured out by this time reality bites. It’s not the only time you might end up watching a film purely on the basis that the central performance is so compelling and recommended (see also City By The Sea), but taken as a gestalt entity Monster has so many components that are merely adequate that the overall effect is somewhat lessened. Hampered by the whole ‘having some vague correspondence to what actually happened’ deal, there’s a fair few stretches where you’ll be watching nothing in particular of much interest. Very well acted nothing in particular of much interest admittedly, but the latter part outweighs the former.

Not that it’s particularly boring at any point, so please don’t think we’re trying to be overly negative just to be cool. You ought to know by this point that we’re just about diametrically opposite from cool. There’s enough of a drag factor to automatically exclude this film from the higher echelons of greatness, but how many of the arbitrary snowflakes out of five it removes is as ever a mark of personal preference that highlights the near redundance of the system. Like everyone else on the planet, we’ll tell you that this film is worth seeing due to the astonishing acting that Theron sustains for the duration of the piece. Just bear in mind that in absolute entertainment value, if there is such a thing, Monster won’t set your heather on fire in quite the way the plaudits heaped upon it might suggest.

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