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MONSTER
Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern
Director:  Patty Jenkins
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  109 Minutes
Release Date:  January 25, 2005

"You'll never meet someone like me again."

Film ****

To experience Monster is to look inside the heart of a real life serial killer and find the human being inside.  It doesn't attempt to gloss over, explain away or otherwise justify the murders that were committed...it merely suggests that every person has a story to tell, regardless of what they might have done.

Aileen Wuornos (Theron) was a woman with dreams, hopes, and ideals that better things were just around the corner for her, but who never seemed to get a break in life.  From her abusive childhood to finding herself on the streets at 13 hooking for a living, life for her was never an adventure to be experienced but a trial to be endured.

Meeting Selby Wall (Ricci) seemed like her last best hope of redemption and love.  Selby was a naive, needy girl who appeared to see the beauty in Aileen she no longer saw in herself.  Love for Aileen could have been the spark that turned her life around for the better...but in this case, it was the match that lit the long burning fuse that eventually undid her.

Hoping to at last leave her life of prostitution behind, Aileen finds she can't get a paycheck to support a couple with her lack of experience and education, and in a quietly heartbreaking moment, she realizes that in order to maintain her relationship with Selby, she'll have to go back to doing the thing she loathes most...heartbreaking because it's Selby that goads her into it.

This leads to a violent encounter with a sadistic client and her first killing, born out of self defense.  It not only brings a bit of money and a car to her and Selby, but begins to unleash a lifetime of anger and frustration in Aileen, who from that point on sees every customer as a potential rapist and abuser.

The life of Aileen from that moment is like a big, slow train wreck...most who watch the movie will no doubt know the outcome ahead of time (especially those of us in Florida where it all happened), but we are powerless to either stop it or look away. 

I must say that I'm particularly grateful that this story fell into the hands of an independent filmmaker.  Hollywood would have tried to sensationalize the story, turn the heat up under the violence, and make Aileen into either a sacrificial lamb or a celebrity macabre.  Writer/director Patty Jenkins brought an even handed sensibility and a deep, ponderous approach to the material.  Her film is not a political statement, a shocker, or a commercialization of the story...it's merely and excellently a very naked, human exploration of the life of one woman who did the unthinkable.  It treats her as a person instead of a cult figure.  It doesn't excuse her for her acts, but instinctively looks closer at a figure it would be easy for many of us to dismiss.

The accolades for Charlize Theron have been far and wide, from the critical acclaim to the countless awards, including her big score on Oscar night.  It truly is the kind of performance that's impossible to over hype; to witness her work in this film is to see the complete submersion of one human being into another.  It's more than just the makeup making one of cinema's most beautiful women look right for the part; it's a complete channeling of spirit.  If you watch the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (also available on DVD from Columbia Tri Star), you're likely to conclude what I concluded:  there has probably never been a more perfect or more accurate portrayal of a true life figure in the entire history of film.

Christina Ricci got somewhat overlooked for her work, but this is one of her finest offerings as an actress as well.  The role of Selby is crucial, and Ms. Ricci appeared to fully understand and appreciate the clingy, immature and self-centered love interest that might have saved Aileen but eventually destroyed her instead.

But credit Patty Jenkins for having the humanity to see this story for what it could be and what it should be.  Because of her, a tale that could have spun into another Natural Born Killers or True Romance became a moving, thoughtful and insightful character study, more interested in basic human truths than in the sensational acts they produced.

Maybe redemption was just out of reach for Aileen Wuornos, but this movie makes it feel like it's a bit closer for us.  When we see the human being behind the Monster, we draw that much nearer to the truly enlightened part of ourselves.

NOTE:  Apparently, at least from what I learned watching the Aileen documentary, Selby Wall wasn't really the name of Aileen's partner, but the extras on this disc don't mention why they changed the name for the movie.

Video ***1/2

This anamorphic transfer from Columbia Tri Star works extremely well...both lighter and darker scenes come across with integrity and very little in the way of grain or other artifacts to spoil the effect.  Detail level is good throughout, and colors come across with natural looking tones and highlights.

Audio ***1/2

With both DTS and Dolby Digital mixes to choose from, you can't go wrong...though this is primarily a dialogue oriented film, there are moments where the soundtrack springs to dynamic life, and the surround mixes accommodate nicely.  Even the original music was mixed especially for surround, given the score an extra edge of ambience.  The songs are an especially nice touch, with great tunes from the likes of Journey, REO Speedwagon, Tommy James and more.

Features ****

When the initial DVD release of this movie came out, I wrote that I'd never wanted a commentary track so much in my life.  Well, ask and ye shall receive...this Special Edition version starts off with that commentary track, and it's a good one...writer/director Patty Jenkins, star/co-producer Charlize Theron and co-producer Clark Peterson team up to talk about the making of the film.  Considering how much they accomplished in a 15 day shoot with very little rehearsal time, what they have to say is genuinely intriguing.  The menu screens on the first disc also reflect the numerous awards Ms. Theron won for her work.

The second disc contains five deleted/extended scenes with optional director commentary, plus a half hour production featurette featuring cast and crew interviews.  There are also three trailers, a promo for the surround track and a DTS mixing featurette, plus an interview with Ms. Jenkins and composer BT. 

Summary:

I'll add my own small praise to the already heaping pile:  Monster is indeed one of the very best films of recent memory, and boasts one of the strongest and most unforgettable lead performances you'll ever see.  After seeing this picture four times now, I'm more convinced than ever that no two women apart from Patty Jenkins and Charlize Theron could have given us this movie, so I'll offer my sincere thanks and admiration and dedicate this review humbly to them.

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