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Monster
cast: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson, and Pruitt Taylor Vince

writer and director: Patty Jenkins

104 minutes (18) 2003
widescreen ratio 16:9
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Martin Drury
Charlize Theron is a cinematic chameleon. In life she is beautiful, stunning and even manages to make a hair colour commercial into an erotic moment. Here, on the DVD, she changes her appearance faster than everyone's favourite Time Lord. Here, Theron is the infamous Aileen Wuornos - from pageant queen to homicidal maniac in the blink of an eye. Wuornos was executed in 2002 after her hatred for the male gender and the inevitable loose screw in the head caused her to go on a killing spree. But was Wuornos simply a misunderstood, abused, sexualised woman? Were the men asking for it? Were the people her crimes scarred for life asking for it? Is taking a life for a life ever really justified? Is the death penalty the last gasp of a barbaric nation swept under the rug by modern society? Watch and learn...

This film is a remarkable character portrait of the 'woman in question' and the DVD extras help to facilitate the growing desire of the viewer to learn more about the events played out on celluloid before their eyes. The commentaries on the DVD - featuring Theron herself - explore the character portrayal in depth and discuss the nitty-gritty aspects of creating what is, in all intents and purposes, a biopic. Watching this film is a gruelling activity and, let's face it, you're not watching this movie because the wife's bought a takeaway and a bottle of fine wine, the kids are out at the neighbours and this was all they had left at the video store. You've bought this DVD because you like Theron as an actress or because you have realised that, like the star of the show, the film itself has begun to wallow in infamy.

This is a powerful debut by director Patty Jenkins and one that marks her out as a fine, skilled director. 2005 saw the release of the biopic Domino. The subject was just as infamous as the inspiration for Monster, but the concept was badly handled by cast, crew and creator. You have to be sensitive when making a film like this. You have to be willing to tell both sides of the story. You have to be able to make the audience into the jury instead of the judge. As well as all this, you have to make the film watchable and enjoyable. Strange as it may seem, we don't watch films in order to cause ourselves pain, injury or upset. We watch films because we want to explore, to understand and to have fun. So, however serious the subject matter of the film is, we must enjoy watching it and Monster is a riot in a mental institution with an added humour-track. The supporting cast around Theron manage to create the ambience of self-destruction, abuse and terror without pouring on the false sentiment so often seen in episodes of EastEnders - where a funeral comes but once a week. You care about the characters as a viewer and that is what makes this film a true work of genius.

What will scare the pants off you even more is if you happen to have 'More 4' on digital TV. If you do, you might just catch the documentary about the subject of Monster where the filmmaker managed to get access to the subject whilst she was in prison awaiting trial. In that documentary, you don't see the misunderstood victim of abuse that Monster tells you is the real persona of the woman at the centre of this Hollywood biopic. You see a killer. That is what takes the shine off Monster. What you've seen before you on screen really happened and people suffered and died as a result of the actions of a woman you are asked to take into your hearts as a victim. Sorry, a lot of people have problems. But not everyone kills in response to bad things happening to them or being done to them. Diminished responsibility is not a great theme for a movie and perhaps, this film cuts far too close to the bone.
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