No way an angel, but it's Charlize all the way
(Review of film "Monster" by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan)

There are a few characters who plead to be brushed
aside. And if you have watched her previous films,
Charlize Theron’s roles would perfectly fit the bill.
Her presence is in all her previous movies was just
that – a presence - and was easily replaceable.
Whether it was doing cartwheels on the beach and
leading a chic lifestyle in ‘Sweet November’ – apart
from devoting one month to each of her boyfriends – or
a sweet goody-two-shoes in ‘Cider House Rules’ or even
a paranoid wife in Devil’s Advocate – whose sole
purpose is to get a supernatural vision – we hardly
bother. So it’s no wonder that the recurring theme
when the Oscar nominations were announced was,
‘Charlize who’.

And then we realize Charlize why, when we see
‘Monster’. No goody maneuvers here as she crisply
slips into the character of Aileen Wuornos, a
prostitute who killed seven of her clients, was
famously branded as ‘America’s first female serial
killer’ and was convicted in Florida in 2002.
Ironically, the witness who gives the evidence against
her is her lesbian lover, Selby Wall (Christina
Ricci), and for whose love Aileen was willing to go to
any extent.

A miserable childhood riddled with fantasies of
stardom; of true love and a fretting for the ideal
guy. All this result in Aileen turning into a
hitchhiking hooker - a deeply frustrated one – and
takes her to point where she has just five dollars and
seriously contemplating suicide. That’s when she meets
Selby, in a gay bar.

It’s ironic that Aileen, who has fantasized about men
all her life, would ultimately find her ideal partner
in Selby, an ideal example of muddled adolescence. At
the same time Aileen has a terrible experience –
ending in murder - with a man who acts like a john but
actually tries to rape and kill her. Completely
shaken, Aileen wants to lead a respectable life and
give up the ways of the street once and for all. But
after some humiliating interview experiences and
Selby’s constant nagging for a fun and party life, she
is left with no choice.

Back to the ways of the street, but this time of blood
and gore. As a paranoid response to the rape-attempt,
she unleashes her anger on her clients. She takes
their money, traps them semi-naked – pretty much a
point of no return – and then shoots them with
cold-blooded venom. With that money, and her client’s
car on most occasions, she keeps Selby happy as they
swing through clubs and bars of Florida. The tough act
of oscillating from a psychotic killer to a loving
girlfriend within such a short period of time is
executed without the viewer even noticing. And
Charlize pulls it off with a fantastic swagger -
pushing her hair back with machismo, puffing a
cigarette with eyes askance, and spewing profanity at
one and all.

The most disappointing aspect about the movie is how
Ricci (Selby) dampens the intensity with her inept
performance. There are occasions when Aileen is
desperately traumatized, when Selby chooses to contort
her face into a apparently confused state and utters
some powerful statements insipidly. In this case,
Selby will probably be the character being brushed
aside by many.

Inevitably, Aileen gets caught, when she is looking
for some change to make a phone call, and gets her due
from the jury. But the enduring moment is when she is
captured outside a bar, surrounded by cops and she
wails out, ‘I just want to call my girl’.

The phenomenal face-change that Toni G has given
Charlize and her ability to sustain the intensity
lives on once the movie is done. There are shades of
Hilary Swank, winner of the best actress award in 2000
for her role as a cross-dressing teenager in ‘Boys
Don’t Cry’. Swank’s performace was described by the
New York Times as “a bleak slice of American life that
leaves a bitter aftertaste”. Charlize's deliverence
isn’t too far behind.
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