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ISSUE 117 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/27/2004

Critic's Corner:

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, February 27, 2004

The mark of a truly provocative piece of cinema lies in its ability to stretch the limits of a viewer's psyche and emotions. Take, for example, the critically-acclaimed motion picture "Monster." The film's focal character, modeled after Aileen Wuornos, is a ruthless female serial killer whose real-life nine-month killing spree left six men dead; yet surprisingly, the most consistent emotion this troubled character elicits from audiences is not anger, nor is it judgment. Indeed, it is likely that audiences will primarily feel an overwhelming sense of pity for the sexually and mentally abused Wuornos, a Michigan-born prostitute who was sentenced to death in 1992 for the murder of six Florida men during 1989-90. Although pity seems an unlikely emotion to harbor towards someone convicted of such brutal and heinous crimes, it is pity that provides "Monster" viewers with that fantastic mental and emotional impasse that so few movies are capable of inducing. "Monster," which chronicles Wuornos's unhappy life -- from a narrative detailing her lofty adolescent ambitions to an unbearable scene in which she executes a man who innocently offers her assistance -- is a film that deserves immense respect for its honesty and brutality. Like many other dramatic works that dabble in the unspeakable, "Monster" is a film worth seeing, if (and likely) only once, simply for its dichotomous and perplexing nature. A fantastically transformed Charlize Theron portrays Wuornos's raw and unsettling emotions with phenomenal calculation and accuracy; it is her Oscar-nominated performance that carries the film and makes it bearable in spite of several horrendous scenes -- including one in which Wuornos is savagely raped and beaten. Indeed, "Monster" reveals an entirely new side of Theron, whose earlier (supporting) roles have done less to emphasize her acting and more to accentuate her beauty. With a lesser, rather unconvincing performance by Christina Ricci, who plays Wuornos' manipulative lesbian love interest, the film also relies heavily upon the talents of first-time Director Patty Jenkins.

Jenkins's approach to the film was straightforward; she used zero special effects (aside from the use of makeup to de-beautify Theron) and chose to film in several of the actual locations where Wuornos murdered her victims, which makes "Monster" all the more gritty. Wuornos, who pleaded "not guilty" to the charges brought against her, became a prostitute at the age of 13 and was first raped at the age of eight. "All I'm trying to do is survive," Theron, as Wuornos, said at one point in the film, "I feel as if I never had a choice [but to kill]." With its simple cinematography and music, "Monster" is a film that allows its actors do the work of involving the audience. Come Oscar time, Theron herself is likely to prove that such laborious performances truly pay off.

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