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Charlize Theron lets beauty takes a back seat--literally and figuratively--in this biopic about real-life, serial killing prostitute Aileen Wournos, and proves she's an excellent actress to boot.


Monster chronicles a year in the life of one Aileen Wournos, for whom the description ''downtrodden'' is an understatement of the 'nth degree. Wournos is infamous for being the first recognized female serial killer in recent U.S. history and was executed in 2002 for killing seven men between 1989-90 (self-defense, she said). Unwanted, unloved and largely abandoned by her family in her early teens, Wournos became a drifter, turning to prostitution along Florida's highways first for acceptance, then for sustenance. As this movie tells it, with a lifelong history of receiving only abuse and contempt at the hands of nearly every male with whom she came into contact, it's clear the very least little thing could push her already unstable mental state right over the edge. That little thing came in the form of one Selby Wall. Wall (a lesbian), comes on to Wournos (not one) at a bar one night with a few kind words: ''You're so beautiful you must have men falling all over you,'' at which point you wonder what planet she's on. An awkwardly fumbling sex scene or two later and off they go on a bizarrely codependent road to ruin that takes them on the run--Wall from her conservative family, Wournos from the law, as she discovers after one particularly brutal encounter that killing men for their money is quicker, easier, safer and more profitable than screwing them for it.


Much is being made about Charlize Theron's transformation into Wournos, and with good reason. To say she looks like a cross between Jon Voight and William H. Macy is being too hard--on the guys. With her baby blues turned into bottomless, brown pools; baby face into pocked, sagging jowls; even, white teeth into grayish tombstones; and flaxen bob into dishwater blonde '70s-era feathered crop, Theron so wholly transforms from bombshell Hollywood star to white-trash hooker, it's a more frightening sight than Paris Hilton's night-vision humpathon. Well, OK, not that frightening. It isn't just Theron's looks that are Wournos from head to toe, however; it's as if Theron was channeling the killer, her performance (barring a few instances of exaggeration) is that eerie. On some level you're always conscious you're watching Charlize Theron, model-turned-actress, underneath all the makeup, and one wonders if the entire film would have worked better starring a complete unknown . But by the time the credits roll, even if you've never heard of or seen Wournos before, you'll feel like you knew her personally after watching Theron swagger, cuss, fight and kill her way through the Sunshine State. In a weird, yet rewarding, casting choice, Christina Ricci effortlessly embraces her role as the lonely and innocent yet, ultimately, whiny and manipulative galpal Wall.


Had Theron's performance and ungodly appearance not packed such a wallop, this movie about a year in the life of a serial killer could have come and gone--truth be told, it's an unredeeming look at the tragic end of a completely wasted life from the viewpoint of the loser who wasted it. From the victimizing encounters Wournos has with almost every male she runs across to the calculating machinations of her treacherous girlfriend, director Patty Jenkins practically screams, ''Poor me!'' for Wournos from the grave. Though the movie's title refers to the main character, it might as well apply to everyone else, as the killer comes off more sympathetic than most of her hapless victims who didn't deserve to die just for picking her up on the highway. Opinions about cause and effect aside, the moviemaking itself is not up to par. Very little is given to explain Wournos' character other than a few flashback scenes that seem more cursory than anything and are punctuated with a distracting voiceover that tries to replace missing pieces of story--such as why, for chrissakes, Selby is so attracted to Aileen. For a movie in which the lesbian factor is so important, Jenkins ultimately lacks the courage to ''go there,'' pulling back on the whole sex thing and spending far too much time on a weak love story that never really makes much sense.

Bottom Line

Talk about getting ugly for Oscar--Charlize Theron does it both inside and out, turning in a powerful, certainly award-worthy performance that's just as mind-blowing as her makeunder in a movie that, quite frankly, doesn't back it up.