Hollywood finds it irresistible when its most ravishing leading ladies muck themselves up for the camera. And, for three years running now, it's been delighted to dole out its ultimate accolade to actresses who've allowed themselves to be battered with the ugly stick. Following Halle Berry's down'n'dirty portrayal of Monster's Ball's abusive, trashy mother and Nicole Kidman's putty-proboscisised Virginia Woolf in The Hours, it was Charlize Theron's turn to be rewarded for her transformation into serial murderess Aileen Wuornos, the south Florida hooker executed for offing seven johns in the '90s.
For Theron, who's been floundering for years in Hollywood's starlet pool, the Best Actress statuette will come as a knight in gold-plated armour, charging in to view just in time to rescue her from a mediocre, second-rank career. The question is: does she deserve all the praise being heaped upon her?
In a word, yes. Prepare to toss out any preconceptions you may have about the South African beauty: she's the real deal. Unlike Kidman's Nose, a clarion call for Academy love, Theron's Aileen is no cosmetic-generated performance (her good looks even peep out occasionally from behind the fake teeth and latex layers). The actress expertly conveys all the embedded grief, rage and defence mechanisms of a woman who's been dealt a shit hand in life (raped by her grandfather, prostitute at nine), while actually making us care about Wuornos in spite of her repugnant deeds.
In Christina Ricci, she also has a willing screen accomplice, Selby gradually unravelling from a sweet, loving naïf whose passion for Wuornos appears genuine to reveal the spoiled brat underneath. It's an unshowy performance, but offers Theron the sturdy launchpad she needs to take off. Credit to writer/director Patty Jenkins as well, whose script deftly navigates tabloid-mined events, senseless slayings and Wuornos' heart-achingly wretched background, while never flinching from depicting the self-deluded `monster' she was to many.
Monster is grim, arduous viewing for sure, but it's a journey worth taking thanks to Theron. She's chilling, heartbreaking, tender, ruthless - and utterly compelling.