Former model Charlize Theron underwent a remarkable physical transformation to play hardscrabble murderess Aileen Wuornos in first-time feature filmmaker Patty Jenkins's gritty chronicle of a violent life on the fringes. The screenplay sticks fairly close to the facts of Wuornos's case: A Florida prostitute who trolled the highways for johns, Wuornos murdered at least seven of them between 1989 and 1990; newspapers dubbed her the first female serial killer, although many women committed multiple acts of murder before the troubled Wuornos picked up a gun. Wuornos, who claimed she only killed in self-defense, was eventually betrayed by her girlfriend and executed in 2002 after years on Florida's death row. Broke and disillusioned, the 33-year-old drifter and highway prostitute accidentally ducks into a gay bar to get out of the rain and meets Midwestern misfit Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), whose family has sent her to stay with friends in Florida to "cure" her of lesbian tendencies. Initially unreceptive to Selby's tentative advances, Aileen warms up to the younger woman and they meet the following day at a roller rink. The needy Selby and the emotionally battered Aileen enter into a whirlwind romance that scandalizes Selby's family and drives them into their own private world, supported by Aileen's hooking. Unbeknownst to Selby, Aileen has already committed her first murder, turning the tables on a john who turned sadistically nasty mid-trick. The two women drift from cheap motels to inexpensive apartments, drinking, squabbling and making up; Aileen kills more men, apparently convinced that they're about to attack her. Always volatile, Aileen becomes increasingly belligerent, flouting rules in bars and diners, picking fights and isolating them even from the drifters and fringe-dwellers whose paths overlap theirs. Aileen's only friend is alienated Vietnam veteran Thomas (Bruce Dern), and Aileen's outbursts ensure that Selby never makes any. Though not entirely sympathetic towards Wuornos, Jenkins's film fleshes out the monstrous image Wuornos herself helped create with her foul-mouthed, confrontational outbursts. But the real heavy lifting fell to Theron, who's unrecognizable under dental prostheses, weathered-skin makeup and some extra 25 pounds of weight. In her hands what might have been an extreme-acting stunt is instead an abrasive study in bitter, lethal desperation; Wournos knows she's beaten, but isn't going to give them — whoever "they" are — the satisfaction of seeing her go down. Ricci's less flashy characterization of the immature Selby is equally skilled and meshes seamlessly with Theron's uncompromising performance.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: Former model Charlize Theron underwent a remarkable physical transformation to play hardscrabble murderess Aileen Wuornos in first-time feature filmmaker Patty Jenkins's gritty chronicle of a violent life on the fringes. The screenplay sticks fairly close… (more)