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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Monster (2003)

"In my life, it's always been the harmless stuff that hurts the most, whereas the thing so horrible that you can't even imagine it is usually a lot easier than you think."
- Lee (Charlize Theron)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 30, 2004

Stars: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern
Other Stars: Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Scott Wilson, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Director: Patty Jenkins

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Sexual Content and for Pervasive Language
Run Time: 01h:48m:43s
Release Date: June 01, 2004
UPC: 043396055520
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ AA-A+ C

DVD Review

Despite what television crime dramas would have you believe, the vast majority of serial killers are male, not female. This puts the occasional female serial killer all the more into the spotlight, and that was certainly the case with Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who was convicted of murdering six of her johns. While the bare facts sound monstrous, director Patty Jenkins takes us deep below the surface into the life of Wuornos in this fictionalized account of her notorious killing career.

Aileen, or as she's usually referred to, Lee (Charlize Theron), is a hooker down on her luck in Daytona, Florida circa 1990, when she wanders into a gay bar looking for a drink and runs into young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Initial distrust and resentment quickly turns to an emotional connection and rapidly into love, despite Selby's religious and highly disapproving family. Lee is happy to take care of Selby as best she can and supports them by hooking. But things go wrong when a john attacks her, and she reacts by killing him. The remainder of the film traces how this self-defense morphed into serial slaughter with its own peculiar morality, seen particularly well in a sequence in which an angry Lee comes across a potential victim, a stammering and pathetic virgin (Pruitt Taylor Vince). Tied in with this crime spree are the temptations and the stresses that it puts on their relationship.

Theron deservedly won the 2003 Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Wuornos; while it's easy to dismiss that as the appeal Hollywood finds in a beautiful actress going ugly for a role (and her Wuornos is truly hideous), Theron manages to provide a good deal of sympathy for Wuornos. The sympathy does not, however, come from an environment-gone-bad weepy sob story (though Wuornos certainly had that in spades, with abuse, molestation, abandonment, and alcoholism for a childhood). The sympathy is derived from the fact that whatever she does is from devotion to Selby and trying to get them out of the spiral of misery that they're sinking into.

While Theron is terrific, Ricci is often overlooked and she shouldn't be. Without the right Selby the relationship between the characters just wouldn't work, but Ricci has the perfect combination of innocence, spoiled poutiness, and steaming sexuality that has driven countless men and women inexorably to their dooms. Ricci's performance is truly memorable as it becomes increasingly clear that she, not Aileen, is the Monster of the title. Her willingness to use Lee for her own benefit is unrelenting, yet she has the nerve to accuse Lee of trying to sponge off her; while Lee is whoring to keep them together, Selby is using the proceeds to buy stuffed animals. Bruce Dern has some brief segments as one of Lee's few friends and it's good to see him again; as usual he puts everything into his supporting role.

Wuornos' story has now inspired two documentaries, numerous books and even an opera. The fascination of the story still hasn't gone away, and thanks to this unforgettable picture will probably stay with us for a long time more. My one concern is that the emphasis on the homosexuality angle is likely to fan the flames of homophobia even more than they already are, but it's also difficult to see how this story of obsession could be told without it.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks terrific for the most part. The shadow detail is good in this very dark movie, with reasonably good color and quite rich and solid blacks. Edge enhancement, usually a problem for Columbia titles, is only occasionally noticeable, such as in the sequence set at the roller rink, one of the few brightly lit moments in the picture. There's plenty of detail and texture information, and no problems with the source material whatsoever.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: As discussed in the extras, the sound design for this film was intended in particular for DTS surround, so that's obviously the soundtrack of choice. It's quite flawless, with clear definition and immersive surround quality. Hiss and noise are nonexistent, and the music has excellent presence and range.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Secret Window, Wild Things 2, In the Cut, Monsieur Ibrahim, Trapped
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:19s

Extra Extras:
  1. Film mixing demo
Extras Review: A few decent extras are provided, but those wanting a full-fledged special edition may well want to wait for the coming September 2004 double-dip. A 14m:40s making-of featurette incorporates both news footage of the real Wuornos and interview footage with Theron and director Jenkins. It's not bad but a bit on the fluffy side. Part of the extensive makeup process for Theron is glimpsed, which is certainly fascinating. More informative is a 15m:42s featurette on the development of the score, with composer BT offering his thoughts and Jenkins going into much greater detail about what she was attempting to achieve with the film. A trivial film mixing demo allows you to play with the dialogue, music and effects tracks in a brief two-minute scene and try different combinations. Finally, a pair of trailers for the film are supplemented by five other miscellaneous trailers.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A brutal but profoundly affecting look at serial killer Aileen Wuornos, with two tour-de-force lead performances, supported by a very good transfer and some moderately good extras.


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