review for Monster on AllMovie

Monster (2003)
by Josh Ralske review

Perhaps Charlize Theron's awe-inspiring performance will be the thing that people remember most about Monster, but the film as a whole marks a surprisingly scrupulous and thought-provoking treatment of sensational subject matter from writer/director Patty Jenkins, making her feature debut. The film is good enough to be more than just a companion piece to filmmaker Nick Broomfield's outstanding documentaries on serial killer Aileen Wuornos, but a viewing of those documentaries validates both Jenkins' vision and Theron's amazingly accurate portrayal of the woman. Theron perfectly captures the way, for example, the sides of Wuornos' mouth turn downward in repose. Theron's turn is not a mere imitation, but captures the tormented spirit of the woman. The crux of the film is the unexpected romantic relationship that forms between Wuornos and Selby. Selby, a fictional stand-in for Wuornos' real-life paramour, Tyria Moore, is well played by (Christina Ricci). Monster has been unfairly criticized for romanticizing Wuornos' depravity, but the film simply shows us that these brutal actions were undertaken by a real live woman, driven to desperation by a lifetime of abuse and newfound financial pressures. The film portrays her actions in a way that makes them comprehensible, but not defensible. Ironically, Aileen's first opportunity to be loved is what effectively pushes her over the edge, until she gradually slips away into madness. As with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the underlying issue is class. The truth of precisely what Wuornos did and why may never be known, but Monster is an accomplished, absorbing, and assiduously moral film that feels like truth.