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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Monster

Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci
Director: Patty Jenkins
Rated: R
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: January 2004
Genres: Drama, Thriller

*Also starring: Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson, Lee Tergesen, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Annie Corley, Marco St. John, Bubba Baker, Marc Macaulay, Brett Rice

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

They say that if the first thing you talk about after seeing a movie is the lighting or the score or the makeup, there's something mighty wrong with that production. "Monster" is an exception, however. The make-up person, Toni G., has done such a jaw-dropping job to make Charlize Theron look like a total loser from a miserable, abuse-ridden background, that she's unrecognizable especially with the thirty pounds she gained for the role. Jaw-dropping is literally true. Among the changes she underwent for the role is the wearing of two sets of teeth sculpted by one Art Sakamoto, that project her lifetime cluelessness about dental care and to afford her a speech pattern that deliberately prevents her from articulating as the educated and classy person she is. The South-African born former model is known to popcorn-loving movie-goers for roles in commercial pics like "Devils Advocate," the unfortunate "Reindeer Games" and "The Italian Job." Never before, however, has she been handed an assignment that brings out the full capacities of the stunning twenty-eight-year-old performer, who this time around takes on with the emphasis on takes on the role of a rare bird in crime studies, the female serial killer.

The film is based on the sad life of Aileen Wuornos, executed just last year after twelve years on Florida's death row, for killing six men, most of whom were guys who called upon her talents as a street hooker on the Florida highways. While she arguably deserved the death penalty (if you believe in that form of punishment), by the end of the movie the audience comes away with a degree of empathy for her to such an extent that if the jurors were to take off twelve years into the future in a time machine, they just might have realized that the young woman's tough life and society's inability to care enough to do something for her before it was too late were extenuating circumstances justifying a lighter punishment.

"Monster" is billed primarily as a story of love despite its re- enactments of some of the murders, most of the details coming from letters that the condemned woman had written in prison to a close friend and which Wuornos had permitted to be used publicly after her execution.

Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) seems on the road to better times when she meets up in a gay bar with Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), yet another woman seeking love or at least someone to talk to when she appears to be ignored by the patrons of the establishment. Insisting at first that she's not gay, Aileen Wuornos is drawn into the life of Selby, is attracted to her after dismissing her own denials of her sexuality, and since Selby is looking for a way out the home of her aunt who has been assigned the job of "curing" the woman of her homosexuality, she packs up and takes her chances with Aileen. When Wuomos, after being tied and tortured by one of her johns, breaks free and shoots the creep dead, her hatred of abusive men is confirmed, resulting in her serial-killing of five others including one guy (Scott Wilson) who is simply giving her a lift and whom she murders apologetically.

While Bruce Dern in the role of Wuornos's best male friend, Thomas, and Donna Tentler as her well-meaning aunt add to the story, "Monster" is largely a two-character work that could conceivably be refashioned for the stage by small theater companies given the crackerjack dialogue that embraces the feelings of the two women who form attachments that they so desperately needed. The soundtrack appears to need some cleaning up during the first half given the mumbling of some of the conversations. "Monster," a biopic with a few voice-overs that render the feeling of a documentary, is dramatic, taut, and performed largely by two actresses who are taking a break from the glitz of Hollywood to do a snappy job in a more authentic, independent-studio piece.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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