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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Retro Review: Monster (2003)

Cast: Charlize Theron, Cristina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen
Genre: Crime Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $60 million

Plot: Based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer

'Theron's Performance Was Mind-blowing & Harrowing, In A Film That Is Also Problematic & A Tad Underwhelming'

I remembered a long time ago as a 20 something -year old sitting in the cinema (theater as it's known in America) just to see this movie and coming out of it being really impressed by it that I paid to watch it for the second time. I still enjoyed the heck out of Monster and was in awe of Charlize Theron's portrayal of Aileen Wuornos.

Based on a true story of America's biggest female mass serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, Monster is a loose account of her personal life, with predominately 90-95% of the story focusing on her relationship with girlfriend, Selby played by Christina Ricci. Up until her death by execution through the death penalty, Wuornos has maintained that all the murders were carried out in self-defence.

As I rewatched Monster for the first time in aeons, it definitely has that indie and underground look to it; it is a B-movie through and through. It has not totally lost it for me completely, it feels not so much like a wasted opportunity that has gone amiss, but that it is an opportunity that hasn't been fully taken advantage of.

The decision to humanise a so-called evil, 'monster', as well as making it a lesbian love story obviously rubbed some people up the wrong way - and in a way, this did take away from a lot of the heightened tension and genuine thriller aspects Monster could have done more with & would have easily benefited from. It's a film where its tremendous box office success and hype was generated out of Theron's non- typecast role as an unglamorous woman, who is a bad person, yet whose evil intentions occur as a result of the traumatic experiences she's had with men in the past, and of her abusive childhood.

Clearly, and arguably as it seems that Jenkins intentions here were subjective: Monster barely scratches the surface of Aileen's mindset and her underlying reasons for her actions, besides that the rape incident enraged her so much, she reacted with ferocity and violence towards her victims. The movie also touches on Aileen and Selby's relationship, which is unheard of in many other movies that deal with darker plots and subtexts and it is refreshing to see. Yet besides that, director and writer Patty Jenkins, though she wanted to make it clear that Aileen is not so bad as a person, the film is not able to define what it thinks and what it tries to say about this anti-heroine. But alas, I guess that is up to the audience to decide and perceive Aileen and whether or not a story about a bad person should be emphasised - or that her actions, difficult life is a direct consequence of the negative people she comes across.

There are a few scenes where there is violence, abuse, assault on an emotional and psychological level (such as with her first John when she is sexually assaulted), but these do not amount to greater effect for an R-rated film, not to mention also these are few and far between and whereas some would rather choose not to watch another predictable serial killer crime movie, with Monster it just didn't have more of those moments to make the film more substantial and worthwhile. By downplaying these scenes, Monster, was at times, a little underwhelming.

I can't deny that Theron deserved that Oscar; although the whole hullabaloo about her putting on dentures, piling on the pounds and looking unpretty, to be honest if any other actress had done the exact thing, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. And yet with Theron, it is; all because she is an attractive looking person in real life. Yet truly, movies exist to not only move people's emotions but some important lessons are to be heeded and learnt from them - Monster, however, is certainly not one of them. Evil is evil in all of its intent, no matter how much you try to cover it up: you do something bad or heinous and it's still evil, regardless. Therefore, it wouldn't hurt to be polysemic and offering different sides of the argument.

The job interview segment was slightly humourous to watch, however.

But with this attempt, it is just too one-sided and with Monster, the direction borders on being too straight and narrow as a film, as much as it tries to portray the other side of Aileen, the so-called humanistic aspects of her character. Sometimes, Jenkins tries too hard to force sympathy on the audience, rather than for this sympathy to evolve naturally and gradually.

That is not to say this film wasn't fully watchable throughout; yet much like with 2000's Erin Brockovich, its massive success was hinged on Julia Roberts tremendous and also against-type performance, and the same is said with Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos. & Monster. But of course, the role of Aileen is a lot more ballsy and in contrast, Aileen is not an outright likeable person.

In all, the performances by Theron and Christina Ricci are what makes the film redeemable and under a different director, who would and might have wrestled out more of that grit and made it more enthralling to watch, Monster would go one better or so as a movie.

Final Verdict:

The story is just a tad repellent for me to sit through on a couple of occasions and the scene where Aileen goes off after being told off for smoking in the movie theater, I felt she was wrong to overreact.

Patty Jenkins decision to turn it into a relationship-based love story was substantial, but I can't help but feel that there was more that this film could have and should have provided. Without Theron's impressive turn, Monster would have nowhere achieved the level of momentum, attention and success it has attained & thus forth, it would have gone unnoticed.

I still found there were enough moments that made it watchable, but Theron was the key to its success and besides the killings, the film is bogged down by the overly depressing and dark tone, the mundane and tepid dramas of Selby and her mother, whilst it glosses over with the melodrama and downplays on the violence.

It appears as such that this film was structured and built around and marketed on Charlize's performance, and personally, I believe this to be the case and that alone is worth sitting through Monster for. Therefore, it gains half a mark for that from me.

Monster still manages to be somewhat engaging at times, but in lacking those dramatic and vital punches throughout and the slow pacing of the story, as well as having a one-dimensional story, the film is only made memorable due to the casting of Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci as the leads.

With Theron giving the best turn out of the lot.


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