Monster (2003)

charlize theron aileen wuornos

A torturous, depressing biography with an uncannily accurate lead performance.

What a tortured life this woman led; a life of inferiority, confusion, violence, victimisation, prostitution, anger and ultimately, murder. Charlize Theron’s utter transformation is what drives this film, her performance and physical emulation perfectly conveying the desperate pain and impetuous anger of her character. I think the Oscars are not much more than a smug festival of self-celebration, but this performance deserved commendation.

‘Monster’ is the story of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute from Florida who murdered seven men between 1989 and 1990. One might think that the film’s title would suggest otherwise, but  the film gives a very human representation of Wuornos. She was indeed a ‘monster’ in her final years, but the film’s emphasis on the brutal, relentless path that led to her first killing shows the architecture of such a creation. But not for a second, I hasten to add, does the film condone her violence, she isn’t glorified and she isn’t vilified either, the film is so very downbeat and visceral that it would be impossible for anyone to be allured by it. ‘Monster’ is by no means the tale of one woman standing up against chauvinist pigs; her tale of nature, nurture and the consequences of violence is impartially told.

The film reflects on Wurnos’ childhood, a time of sexual favours, inadequacy, rape and beatings. A narrative gap, which misses a dubious failed marriage and numerous arrests, presents the viewer with a sorry picture, a woman who washes in petrol station toilets, a woman who is desperately trying to survive. She then meets a companion, the vulnerable Selby Moore. It’s at this point that the film strays from the facts; ‘Selby Moore’ is a fictional character, very loosely based, especially in appearance, to Tyria Moore, Wuornos’ lover until her execution.

The pair, who have moved in together, live off Wuornos’ prostitution wage until their relationship is complicated by Moore’s discovery of Wuornos’ taste for violence. The film depicts the first murder as Wuornos described it -self defence. Unlike her later stories, I think this claim has credibility; it’s quite possible that Mallory thought Wuornos was expendable social underclass, an easy thrill without consequence. I respect that the scene was orchestrated in this manner.

Monster is a stark and balanced insight into the frankly miserable life of Aileen Wuornos. You may not like her and all the violence will most likely strain your empathy, but I think you’ll leave the film having a greater understanding of the woman.

80%

Frost/Nixon (2008)

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Frost/Nixon is a taut, entertaining dramatisation with strong performances and an accomplished period aura

When watching films based on true events, my propensity for doubting what I see on screen is instantly heightened. The main thing that I found suspect was the extent to which Nixon was constructed as a villain. During the film he is shown to be deceptive, racist, lecherous and a man unashamedly motivated by money. The film does add favourable depth to the character in places, making the viewer pity him in some respects, but generally Nixon doesn’t fare well at all. I don’t know enough about the man to accurately comment on the film’s portrayal of him, however I did find the characterisation somewhat dubious.

Furthermore, upon researching the interviews, I read that David Frost’s experience was different to what’s seen in the film. According to his partner Caroline Cushing, he didn’t fret endlessly over his performances with Nixon, he was quite content with each of the interviews.

So, like many films ‘inspired by true events’, the film takes liberties with the facts. However this doesn’t matter to the viewer, the artistic licence makes for a great piece of dramatisation. The film is quite a gruelling experience; the pressure in and out of the interviews is intense. For a film that concerns conversations, it is quite remarkable how compelling and uncomfortable it is. The wars of words and mind games are more engrossing than any boxing match in ‘Raging Bull’ or ‘The Fighter’.

The film’s chief merit lies in its performances. Martin Sheen sounds and even looks exactly like David Frost, it is quite uncanny. And whilst not meeting the likeliness achieved by Sheen, Frank Langella is equally as captivating as Nixon. Also, Kevin Bacon gives a good, typical Kevin Bacon performance as Jack Brennan, the officious aide to the President.

Frost/Nixon is a taut, entertaining dramatisation with strong performances and an accomplished period aura.

80%