Director Patty Jenkins' third film is based on the true story of female serial killer Aileen Wournos, a highway prostitute who killed her johns in Florida during the 1980s. Charlize Theron (The Italian Job) plays the lead, and took home an Academy Award for her powerful and convincing portrayal of an insane but not unsympathetic felon.
The film begins with a brief overview of Wournos' twisted upbringing. Her family life was far from ideal and very early on the film makes us aware of the fact that for her entire life she's been striving to find someone who really loves her for who she is, and not for what she can do sexually.
Soon after she meets Selby (Christina Ricci of Sleepy Hollow) by unwittingly walking into a gay bar, and the two hit it off. Selby has been spending the summer in Florida under the care of her aunt and uncle, and is part of a fairly conservative family who just do not seem too keen on accepting the fact that she is a lesbian. This isn't made any easier for her Selby when her aunt discovers her in bed with Aileen.
While out turning tricks to raise some money so that she and Selby can get a hotel room for a night or two, Aileen is brutally raped and ends up killing the rapist. She steals his car and his money and soon convinces Selby to take off with her, promising her that she'll be able to make enough money for both of them. After a failed attempt to clean herself up and go straight, Aileen ends up killing six more johns, some more innocent than others, before she is ultimately arrested and convicted after Selby leaves her to go back to her family.
Feel good movie of the year material this film is most certainly not. It's a bleak and depressing look at how someone's life can start and end as utter crap, leaving nothing in the middle but more of the same. Jenkins' film focuses more on the relationship between Aileen and Selby than it does on Aileen's crimes, and paints her as a sad and misunderstood woman. Not to say that Aileen's story isn't without pathos, it is in fact filled to the brim with it, but at the same time the woman did murder seven men and the film doesn't put as much focus on this aspect of her story to make it as intense as it could have been.
Theron lives up to the hype though, and delivers a great performance in the lead, while Ricci is almost as good herself in her supporting role. The two are quite believable together, looking and acting their parts very convincingly. Jenkins does a good job directing and keeps the film moving at a nice pace, even if sometimes this causes the movie to stray from the meat of the story a little bit.
Ultimately, Monster is a gritty look at a woman pushed into a horrible life from the start and who ended up lashing back at the men who had abused her for her whole life. It's ironic in a sense that this caused her to lose the one person who had really shown her any love (as twisted as their relationship may have been, Selby did seem to love Aileen), and the State of Florida executed Aileen for her crimes in 2002.
Monster hits DVD in an above average 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that, while of very good quality, isn't quite perfect. There's a little bit more print damage here than you might expect to find on a movie that is only a year old, though all of it is pretty minor. Compression artifacts aren't an issue, which is very much a good thing seeing as a lot of the movie takes place at night. Flesh tones look good and there's quite a bit of detail evident throughout (just look at the close ups of Theron's face – you can see every freckle there). Overall, Columbia's DVD does a nice job of retaining the gritty look and feel that the film creates and it does so with a nice level of detail, solid black levels, and accurate color representation.
There are two audio tracks on the DVD, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a DTS 5.1 mix, both in English. Removable Spanish subtitles are also included. Both the Dolby Digital and the DTS tracks sound quite good with very little difference between the two mixes. Bass response is really good and the surrounds are used effectively to create background noise in the appropriate scenes without sounding contrived or fake. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand and the narration, aside from the fact that it is just a tad flat, is likewise easy to listen to. The DTS mix does have a bit more bass response in a few scenes, giving it a slight advantage over the Dolby Digital mix.
There aren't a ton of extras on this release, but there are a few interesting supplements. The first, and best, is a fifteen-minute look at the making of the film. There's footage of Patty Jenkins and Charlize Theron scouting locations, on the set, under make up, and behind the scenes. It's an interesting piece that does a nice job of showing just how dead on the make up crew for this film got the look down for Theron, who looks a lot like Aileen Wournos they've done their work. This segment is fullframe.
An interview with Petty Jenkins and composer BT entitled Monster Surrounded clocks in at just under sixteen-minutes in length. This feature gives quite a bit of background information on how the music was composed and designed for the film specifically to take advantage of 5.1 surround sound capabilities to make for a more immersive viewing experience.
Aside from that, there's a thirty-second commercial for the DTS release of the film's soundtrack, as well as the domestic and international theatrical trailers, both in non-anamorphic widescreen and in Dolby Digital 2.0. There is also a Film Mixing demonstration that allows you to play back a scene with either the dialogue only, the sound effects only, or the score only, or to mix and combination of the three you might want to try out.
Charlize Theron gives a great performance in this bleak but well made true crime/thriller. The DVD looks good and sounds good but the skimpy extra features lead me to believe that we'll get a special edition of this release somewhere down the line. That being said, the film is quite good and the presentation is solid. Monster comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.