This film, directed by Patty Jenkins, may actually have been the best film of 2003. It is a mesmerizing portrait of a women driven to kill by her own demons, and the portrayal is unflinching. The story is about a woman named Aileen Wuornos, whom you may recall was convicted of killing 7 men in 1992 and sentenced to death, since carried out ten years later. Along the way, Aileen met and apparently fell in love with young Tyria Moore (named Selby Wall in the film), a young woman trying to determine her own sexuality. The young lover quickly sees chances to use Aileen, eventually leading up to her testifying against her (in order to save her own skin). What makes this so sad, is the lengths that Aileen went to please her because in Aileen's warped brain, Tyria/Selby was her one last good thing on earth and she refused to let it go. I suppose you could say it was the power of positive thinking, except that thinking ended up with 7 men dead and Aileen on death row.
In the film, Aileen is played by Charlize Theron, in perhaps the finest performance by an actress in years. Theron does not just play Aileen, she has become Aileen. Roger Ebert talked about how people try to dismiss certain performances aided by heavy make-up by figuring out how it was done, thus taking away the credit from the actor or actress. He said in this movie, "Watching the film, I had no sense of makeup technique; I was simply watching one of the most real people I had ever seen on the screen." He could not be more right. Theron won the Oscar and deserved it hands down for this role. Her entire mannerisms and eye movements are consistent and incredibly instructive for this character, and she explores each and every level of this simple and troubled woman.
Her lover, Selby Wall in the movie, is played by Christina Ricci. I must say, it is nice to see Christina playing an innocent again after so many "saucy" roles. As well, Ricci takes a difficult role and adds nuance and many layers that are not always easy to see as they are revealed. Her final scene with Theron is one of the most touching scenes of the movie, and their chemistry together, both as lovers and fighters, and even as slightly kindred spirits, is on the money from the moment they meet on screen.
Bruce Dern also has a small role as a friend of Aileen's. He acquits himself nicely too, but his screen time is limited. Further, I enjoyed the other supporting roles that did not have much screen time, as Jenkins makes sure to use them as effectively as they can be used. This story is about Aileen and everything that happens in the film is there to show you what drove her to these acts. But the film does not seem to have an agenda other than to show you what happened, warts and all. Wuornos' descent into rage is a slow burn turned into an explosion. Her final kill is one of the hardest things to watch on film. The look and feel of the film is built around the main character, and it was difficult to pause the movie or look away. I was completely drawn in and mesmerized by what I was watching. Much of the film was shot on location as well, giving it a feeling of reality that might otherwise be forgotten as we see the path Wuornos eventually takes.
Outside of this, I admit I watched a few documentaries about the real life Wuornos. Let me just say, this woman was out of her mind at the end. There are some that claim she should not have been put to death if mentally incompetent, but I'd have to say it was more a blessing for her than a punishment. Here was a woman who was beaten and raped as a young girl, forced to live in the woods when she was in her teens since her parents had thrown her out. She had been trading sex for money since she was 13 years old and had never found anything in her life that made her feel good about herself, or so it seems to me. I will not call her a victim of society, as so many others would like, but I will say it is a sad episode in the life of mankind. Had her history been different, there is no telling if her life would have followed a different course. As it was, she was a murderer, though perhaps not the "first female serial killer" that she was made out to be. But she was subjected to her punishment, and in my mind, was truly repentant in the end. If not for her own life, then at least for the ones she took.
You simply must rent this film if you have not yet seen it. The fact that I am writing this review more than a week after seeing it is a testament to how much I respect this film. It gets my highest recommendation. That is all.