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.

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True Grit (2010)

TRUE GRIT

Overrated.

I was looking forward to this film, but ultimately it was forgettable, a disappointment. My main problem with this film is the pacing. The majority of the film is slow, building the character of ‘Tom Chaney’ to be this elusive, faceless nemesis, almost being comparable to ‘Keyser Soze’ in ‘The Usual Suspects’. I felt that when or if the clan finally found Chaney it would be a grand stand-off, a chilling confrontation. But, in the back of my mind, it dawned on me that this film was only around the 1 hr 40-50 minute mark; it had the pacing of a film an hour longer than that, it couldn’t afford to be like this. And so it was, very little happened in the first 1 hr 30 minutes, with absolutely everything coming to a head within the next 10 to 15 minutes or so, it felt rushed and created a crushing sense of bathos. Ultimately, the film has a simplistic premise that is, quite frankly, poorly told; stories of retribution have been told better dozens of times.

While the narrative of the film lets it down, the acting does not. Performances from Bridges, Damon and Brolin are all relatively good (if you can put up with Bridges’ incoherence), but it is in Hailee Steinfeld that we see the best performance. The gumption the 14 year-old portrays in her character reveals her great confidence and talent as a young actress; initially it must have been daunting for a girl of her age working with her older, esteemed co-stars.

People I have consulted about the film praised its direction and cinematography, but the similar wide, open landscapes and nail-biting sequences of the Coens’ outstanding ‘No Country For Old Men’ were leaps and bounds ahead. Unfortunately, ‘True Grit’ produced nothing original, nothing that particularly etched itself on my mind.

In conclusion, I am totally bemused by True Grit’s praise and score on Rotten Tomatoes; I have a suspicion that it has something to do with the Coens’ reputation. If the film were directed by a lesser name, I think this film would’ve garnered a much lower score.

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