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Monster

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (Strong Violence and Sexual Content, and for Pervasive Language)

Running Time: 109 minutes

Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley and Scott Wilson

Written and Directed by: Patty Jenkins

 

Studio: Columbia Tristar

Retail Price: $26.96

Features: The Making Of Monster, Monster: The Evolution Of The Score, Film Mixing Demo, Theatrical Trailer, International Trailer, Soundtrack Spot, Previews

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (25 Scenes)

Released: June 1st, 2004

 

 

"Monster" is the based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, who was labeled America's first female serial killer. The film tells the story of Wuornos and her crimes; in how she was a Florida prostitute who was emotionally shattered largely in part to a terrible life filled with a lack of love and abuse. But once Wuornos meets a lesbian teenager named Selby at a bar, things start to get complicated for the two of them. Unexpectedly overtaken by Selby's compassion, Wuornos seeks to give up prostitution. and start a regular and stable life. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there is no escaping your past nor are there any easy roads to redemption.

Let me get the obvious out of the way first: "Monster" has received the most attention for Charlize Theron's portrayl of Aileen Wuornos. Theron has been crticially praised for the role, and now has quite a few awards to show for it (including some much-deserved Oscar gold). Whether you liked the movie or not, Theron must be admired for what she achieves here: there is a lot more than this comely actress "deglamorizing" herself than the average moviegoer might think. Theron gives an intense, deeply-layered performance that was not only probably challenging for her, but challenges the audience as well.

But what makes Theron so rich, so heartwrenching and so intriguing at the same time as Wuornos? It's simply in how she inhabits Wuornos. Sure there is the accent and the ugly look to her, but Theron captures the mannerisms and emotional complexity incredibly well. Just see how Theron explodes often during the film and gets defensive, or the nervous smile and even in how she smokes a cigarette. But as amazing as Theron is when she is brooding, this force comes through in the quieter moments that certainly do resonate - the voice-over monologues Theron cites throughout the film are powerful and definitely strike chords.

But wait folks, there's even more: Theron flawlessly captures all the moods and thoughts Wuronos must juggle. There are many in the movie, but how she goes back and forth between them - from depression to the happiness in thought of living a normal life, Theron sticks herself deeply in every emotional corner. And for someone who ends up killing several people, Theron makes Wuornos a sympathetic figure - it's easy to feel all the pain and torment wihin her (I'm sure some of this comes from Theron's own past, where her own mother shot and killed her father in self-defense when he came home one night in a drunk rage). I hope that anyone who thought Theron was simply eye candy with just "some" acting talent in movies before better think twice now. Calling her a tour-de-force in this movie doesn't seem to do justice in just how good she is.

While Theron is certainly the star and the character of Wuornos drives the film, I could not believe just how many people overlooked Christina Ricci - be it the major awards, some critics and some audiences too. Ricci did a lot of commercial-oriented work when she younger, but as she has grown older, she has also taken many chances in much smaller films. Ricci scores one of her best roles to date as the confused and naive Selby. Selby in a lot of ways is a lot like Wuornos, in the fact that they are lost individuals who feel unloved and not totally accepted by society. Ricci shows her talent by hitting all the right notes from an emotional standpoint. There is excitement as she and Aileen begin a life together, but soon, wariness and fear as she comes to terms with Aileen's murder and what she has gotten herself into. What is really impressive is how Ricci taps right into Selby's unhappiness, frustration and personal loneliness, and how well she plays off Theron (the two are quite believable as a pair). Couldn't this actress also be recognized by the Academy with at least a nomination?

It's particularly fascinating in how writer and director Patty Jenkins stages the film, and what kind of figure she makes Wuornos out to be. The film's prologue gives some background on Wuornous, in how she was abused and unloved, and then picks up right before she meets Selby. This of course leads to multiple tragedies, rather then the redemption that Wuornous is seeking. She wants to go straight and needs money, but the only way she can actually get a few dollars is by being a prostitute. Even though she kills her first victim in self-defense after being raped and abused, the rest are innocent. Wuornous becomes overwhelmed and empowered by violence, and tries to justify the murders that she has comitted. At first her reasonings are quite broad, but soon Aileen is desperate and makes it more personal.

The film is clear and evenly-paced: Patty Jenkins focuses on what made Aileen so infamous, but deconstructs it and lets us inside the person she was. Jenkins makes Wuornous out to be a very complex character, and not just a mindless murderer. As things progress, we learn more about her past and it helps us empathize more with her. Certainly nobody commends her brutal acts, but the film makes us understand the woman as a human being. Wuornous, it seems, was never given a fair chance at life. We feel bad that nobody truly ever gave a damn about her and that people mistreated her, and had to use her body as a way of getting attention. In a sense, we feel some hope and happiness for her in that someone does respect her and does love her for who she is - even if we as an audience know where things will go. Ultimately the movie is a bit disturbing, but it perfectly achieves a dark mood that is rather haunting. It's almost as if you feel like you're being watched from behind during the course of the film, and that you keep anticipating the worst.

Even if the overall tone of "Monster" is not a happy one, Jenkins still makes it to be a very poignant motion picture. She makes strong parallels between Aileen and society and life in general, and puts in some powerful symbolisms and imagery (not to mention to give the audience to think about what a monster can really be). The voice-overs that Jenkins chooses that appear throughout the movie are well-placed and put things in perspective. Jenkins also does not shy away from the unflinching violence. Even though there has been more and even worse violence in plenty of other movies, when Wuornous fires a gun it is still horrific and graphic. Most importantly though, the film sticks with you once it is over and definitely makes you think about who Aileen Wuornous really was.

"Monster" definitely soars because of the acting, but it is also an incredibly effective character study. It remains to be seen what Theron will do from here, but it is certainly a career best for her as well as co-star Christina Ricci. Jenkins shows that she is definitely a gifted filmmaker and I'm curious what she'll be up to next as well. This this is a raw and powerful film.

 

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Monster" certainly looks quite impressive given its small budget. The transfer really does shine with strong color saturation and an overly sharp image with clarity. The fleshtones look very nice, black levels are pretty strong and detail is overly solid making the seedier locations all pretty attractive (there is also no edge enhancement, either). There are a few things that bring the score down though: scratches and blemishes appear seldomly andthere is some noise. The scenes that have less lighting also suffer slightly, as they are a bit grainy and not usually as sharp as the scenes with more direct light. Still, these little instances don't really hurt the surprisingly strong image quality.

 

"Monster" is given the 5.1 treatment in Dolby Digital and DTS. It was really hard for me to tell the difference between both tracks since they sound so similar. Both have good dynamic range, above-average fidelity and strong imaging. Dialogue is crisp and very clear on both tracks, and the music definitely adds power to the mixes - that includes the well-placed 80s songs and the rather superb score by BT. But because "Monster" is mainly a talking picture, there aren't too many surround effects. What stands out the most though is the background talking in the bar, drivers passing by on the highway, a sudden car crash (which gives a pretty good jolt) and most memorably, the gun shots that Aileen fires (those sound very discrete). If I had to pick a preference though, I'd have to choose the DTS by a hair (sorry Dolby Digital - maybe next time). The sound has a tiny bit more depth to it, and envelopes better. Other than that, there really aren't any major differences in the tracks and each one gives off a fine experience. Spanish subtitles are also included, as well as English closed captioning via your television set.

 

The Making Of Monster is a strong featurette that covers a lot of ground in a mere fifteen minutes. Yes, there are clips from the film and footage from the set, but there's even focus on a lot of elements: the real Aileen Wuornous and Patty Jenkins fascination with her, Jenkins crafting the story for the film, Theron's make-up transformation, shooting on location and Theron's collaboration with Jenkins. The featurette is mainly highlighted by Jenkins and Theron, but there are interviews with Ricci, Dern and some other cast and crew members. This is all really well done, and I wish it was longer. Also, toward the start of the featuette, we see and hear about a road trip Jenkins and Theron went on to do research for the movie. It's pretty interesting stuff, especially when you hear from Wuornous' real best friend from high school, and makes me curious why the entire video of the trip wasn't included on the DVD. I would have loved to seen it all.

Monster: Evolution Of The Score also lasts about fifteen minutes and is in anamorphic widescreen. These nifty interview segments feature Jenkins and the film's composer, BT (who again does a really terrific job). Everything you'd expect is covered: what Jenkins was looking for, how BT got involved, and what the score entails. What's most fascinating though is BT's approach to the score: he wanted to build it from scratch in 5.1 sound. We hear from each artist respectively, but things shine when the two get together and talk about the work that was created and cite examples (which are shown). Also, Steve Perry of the band Journey is given some credit. I'm not sure if casual fans will like this, but if you're really musical-oriented or curious to hear about a film's scoring process, you'll love this. Very candid and insightful - a must-watch.

There is a Film Mixing Demo too - nothing new, but still kind of fun. Basically, you can mix and match your own custom mix of dialogue, effects and music for the Funland scene. It's always fascinating to hear just how crucial each sound element is.

There are the film's Theatrical Trailer and International Trailer, both in non-anamorphic widescreen and two-channel sound. Monster "Surrounded" is really just a promotion for the film's soundtrack and finally, there are five Previews for other Columbia Tristar titles - two before the main menu (which you can chapter skip) and three to choose from when you click "Previews" from the main menu.

 

"Monster" is a unique and pretty powerful character study, all anchored by two incredibly strong performances. Even though the DVD is not feature packed, it has a few things worth checking out (for those who are further inclined, Columbia Tristar has also released a documentary about Aileen Wuornos). The transfer is great though, and the sound mixes are nicely done. For those of you who missed the movie in theaters, "Monster" is certainly worth checking out on DVD.