The 6-foot-tall blonde woman at the center of Monster is not Charlize Theron; she is someone else altogether. The golden goddess of 2 Days in the Valley and The Italian Job doesn't so much shed her own skin as slide under someone else's in a performance that's Oscar-worthy and then some.

Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, the real-life prostitute-turned-serial-killer who was convicted of murdering six of her johns and ultimately executed last year by the state of Florida. Layers of latex and opaque contact lenses render Theron physically unrecognizable. But this is no Nicole Kidman strapping on a nose and being mistaken for an Actress. For Theron, the makeup and clothes only set the stage for a nuanced, powerhouse performance; her eyes and voice adopt Wuornos' wounded rage and moments of malevolence almost as easily as her body takes on the woman's butch bearing and interpersonal awkwardness.

First-time writer-director Patty Jenkins' multi-layered script searches for the audience's empathy but never asks for Wuornos' absolution. She simply introduces us to an abused child who has grown into a broken, monstrous adult. We watch Wuornos kill, the first time, to survive; then, we watch her kill because she wants to and because she can. And, finally, we stand beside her as she pulls the trigger, sobbing and sorrowful, because she knows how far gone she is.

At the same time, Jenkins puts a love story at the heart of Monster. Wuornos falls in love with a girl (Christina Ricci) she meets in a bar, and much of the film is focused on her desperation to keep this relationship together. Sadly, as the naive and immature Selby Wall, Ricci is the film's weakest link. The Selby character is supposed to be annoying and unsympathetic, but she's also supposed to be real. Ricci, in all her affectedness, never makes that last leap, and Theron makes her look like an amateur without even trying to.

Shot in many instances on the actual locations of real events, Monster is a tight film, a surprisingly solid showcase for Theron's work. Jenkins necessarily fictionalized certain elements and characters, but drew largely from Wuornos' death row correspondence wherever she could. Her desire for verisimilitude extends to the creation of that under-the-radar world of low-rent hotels, skating rinks and biker bars. But mostly, Jenkins' greatest accomplishment -- aided immeasurably by Theron -- is showing the human being inside the Monster. -- Carlson

Who's that lady? Charlize Theron goes deep - undercover for Monster.
  • Who's that lady? Charlize Theron goes deep undercover for Monster.

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