"I was beautiful, like a diamond in the rough"
Patty Jenkins debut feature film as a Director is based on the harrowing, heart breaking yet brutally violent true story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, one of the earliest known female serial killers in the United States who, in the late 1980's and early 1990's murdered seven men in the surrounding area of Daytona Beach, Florida. Written for the screen by Director Jenkins, the film begins with old style cine film footage of "Aileen" or "Lee" (Charlize Theron) as she is commonly known in the film, growing up and backed by a running narration from Lee "I always wanted to be in the movies", the screen extends to full cinema scale and brings her story up to date. Lee has just $5 left in the world, drenched, bedraggled and dirty she sits alone underneath a motorway overpass and with only a gun for company she has resolved to take her own life as soon as she's spent these last remaining dollars. A prostitute since the age of 13, a teenage mother and violently, horrifically and repeatedly raped and abused since her earliest years, Lee has nothing left to lose and nothing more to give before a chance meeting with "Selby" (Christina Ricci) reignites her passion for living again. Lee has gone from nothing to "everything" with Selby as she resolves to go "straight" and live a fulfilling life with the much younger woman with whom she quickly falls in love with. Principally covering the the turbulent months at the end of 1989 and the beginning of 1990 , Monster is a graphic portrayal of ostensibly a love story, albeit a horrific one, of two disparate characters caught in a violent whirlpool that ultimately neither can control.
Ably supported in minor cameo roles by the ever dependable screen presence of Bruce Dern as Lee's only true, independent friend in the world "Thomas" and Annie Corley as Selby's overbearing guardian "Donna", the film falls to two immense central performances from Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci who both produce thunderous and eye catching portrayals in a film they both dominate but for entirely different reasons. Ricci's performance is often overlooked as it's cast in the shadow of Theron's Oscar winning portrayal but she holds the heart and soul of the film in many ways as the youthful, naive wannabe rebel from the parental guardians smothering her. She receives this in spades from Lee's reckless behaviour and soon begins adopting and mimicking her style and way of being although initially unaware of her horrific background, falls completely in love with her. Whereas Ricci's performance is shy and timid, Theron's is pure brute force, blunt, aggressive and utterly distasteful of a sociopath that once she has gained a semblance of revenge following a horrific and graphic rape begins to thrive on the idea of premeditated killing. Whilst there is very little sympathy for Theron's character, her portrayal of Lee as a manic staring, off kilter and schizophrenic killer is disturbingly electrifying and whilst difficult to comprehend, you cannot escape from her glare or take your eyes away from her grotesque performance. "All you need is love and to believe in yourself" she says in the film's constant narration and for a few short months she had the former but seemingly never the latter.
Monster is an incredible debut film from Patty Jenkins and clearly a passionate project for her and Executive Producer Charlize Theron. I originally watched this in early 2004 soon after it's release on DVD and was utterly mesmerised and blown away by this horrific real life story and watching again 13 years later for the purpose of this blog those feelings have resurfaced again. The central performances remain incredible forces of nature but after re-watching I have a fuller appreciation of the film's immersive music score from BT and the film's more tender and light hearted moments shared by the two doomed lovers and especially the roller disco scene accompanied by some particularly apt choices of music from Blondie, INXS and Journey.
I have nothing but praise for this film and after reading Aileen Wuornos' self penned book "Monster - My True Story" and watching the fascinating Nick Broomfield documentary "The Life and Death of a Serial Killer" back in 2004, re-watching this film recently reminded me just how well Patty Jenkins has depicted a horrific true life tale on film and 13 years on from it's initial release it remains visceral, violent and an utterly horrific story of one of America's first female serial killers.
"It's like the world is going to end"
It's been a long fourteen years for Director Patty Jenkins since her directorial debut and Oscar winning first film Monster (see above) but her return to the big screen here is a glorious and fun one in a barnstorming take on the origin story of DC Comics Wonder Woman. Aided by an all star and stellar cast including Gal Gadot (Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice, Triple 9), Chris Pine (Star Trek, Hell or High Water), Connie Nielsen (The Devils Advocate, Gladiator), Robin Wright (Forest Gump, Everest), Danny Huston (The Proposition, Children of Men), David Thewlis (Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, Anomalisa), Ewan Bremner (Trainspotting) and Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead, The Office) amongst many, many more, Wonder Woman truly is a fun and entertaining telling of her origins and roots which although is slightly overlong, a couple of missteps with some CGI and a typical crashing, smashing comic book style finale' still easily overly achieved my expectations after weeks of anticipation on watching today's UK release at my local picture house.
"I used to want to save the world" so says "Diana Prince" AKA "Wonder Woman" in her opening narration as the film settles into the present day and her receiving a gift from a certain Bruce Wayne of Wayne Enterprises at The Louvre in Paris where Diana currently works. Inside the packaged gift is a 100 year old photograph and we quickly go back in time to even before this photograph is to be eventually taken and to an idyllic, remote island where we find a very young Diana, the only child on an island surrounded entirely by Amazonian fighting women who are all raised on the Greek myths of old, of War, Creation, Gods and of defending their island paradise (and indeed the world) from outsiders and the Greek God of War, Aries. Fiercely protected by her Mother "Hippolyta" (Connie Nielsen), she simply wants her daughter Diana to enjoy a beautiful and idyllic childhood and upbringing away from the pressures of growing into another Amazon Warrior but her Sister "Antiope" (Robin Wright) can see the drive, determination and the special qualities in her niece Diana and pushes her through a rigorous training regimen from a young age. Ever wary of the myths of the past and of Aries spreading War throughout the world, the war, "The Great War" of World War I finds it's way onto their idyllic island paradise as "Steve Trevor" (Chris Pine), a spy for British Intelligence crash lands, bringing with him hoards of chasing battalions of Germans and with it a clash of cultures as the two worlds collide, the guns of brawn of the early 20th Century versus the skill and prowess of swords and shields of the Amazonian Female Warriors, one of whom is Diana who resolves to save Steve and join the Great War as she protects the world from the force of Aries.
The film as a whole is a real and genuine triumph and excels in so many areas, from Director Jenkins' direction to a poignant and often laugh out loud funny screenplay from Allan Heinberg, Zach Snyder and Jason Fuchs and the well rounded and invested characters they draw, be it Gal Gadot's central performance as the Amazon Warrior with supernatural powers through to the more deadpan yet extremely humourous portrayal of Chris Pine as the World War I British spy. There are more than hints and echoes of the Superman/Lois Lane partnership about them, however the film is rich in even more well drawn characters, be it David Thewlis as "Sir Patrick", Danny Huston's excellent as always screen presence as German General "Ludendorff", Lucy Davis brilliant comic turn as "Etta" through to a ragtag bunch of confidants and aids to Steve Trevor in the War, be it Ewan Bremner suffering from shell shock and dealing with it the only way he can by singing his way through the war as sharpshooter "Charlie", Eugene Brave Rock as "The Chief" and Said Taghmaoui as a master of disguise and secret agent "Sameer". Every setting too is brilliantly realised, be it the paradise island or it's direct juxtaposition the muddy and horrific trenches of the Great War and although I do have misgivings surrounding some of the CGI effects (some are sketchy at best and some just disappear in a blur) and the twenty minute battle finale' that is seemingly de rigueur in today's comic book movie adaptations, Wonder Woman is a treat, playful, ironic and although not entirely taking itself too seriously really does treat the comic book, DC Universe, story and characters seriously and with respect. A highly recommended gem of a film.