A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer" is a documentary by Nick Broomfield, the guerrilla filmmaker who works with a crew of one (cinematographer and co-director Joan Churchill) and structures his films into the stories of how he made them. He met Aileen, invariably described as "America's first female serial killer," soon after her original arrest, and made the 1992 documentary "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" about the media zoo and bidding war that surrounded her sudden notoriety. Florida police were fired after it was disclosed they were negotiating for a Hollywood deal, and Aileen, meanwhile, was represented by "Dr. Legal," a bearded, pot-smoking ex-hippie who was incompetent and clueless. She saw his ad on late-night TV. She couldn't pay him, but he figured he could cash in, too.
As Wuornos' often-delayed execution date inexorably closed in, Broomfield returned to the story for this film, made in 2002. He had become friendly, if that is the word, with Aileen, and indeed she gave him her last interview. He also interviewed many people instrumental in her life, including childhood friends, former sexual partners and even her long-lost mother. The portrait he builds of her life is one of cruel suffering and mistreatment. This was a young woman who hitchhiked to Florida when she was 13 because she was tired of sleeping in the rough, and who became a roadside prostitute because, really, what else was open to her? Social services? Invisible, in her case.
Wuornos herself is onscreen for much of the film. Charlize Theron has earned almost unanimous praise for her portrayal of Aileen in the current film "Monster," and her performance stands up to direct comparison with the real woman. There were times, indeed, when I perceived no significant difference between the woman in the documentary and the one in the feature film. Theron has internalized and empathized with Wuornos so successfully that to experience the real woman is only to understand more completely how remarkable Theron's performance is.
Wuornos talks and talks and talks to Broomfield. She confesses and recants. She says at one point that her original defense (she was raped and attacked by her victims, and shot them in self-defense) was a lie -- that she was in the "stealing biz" and killed them to cover her tracks. On another day she is likely to return to her original story. We hear her describing a man who tortured her with acid in a Visine bottle, and her vivid details make us feel we were there. Then she tells Broomfield she made it all up. What can we believe? Broomfield's theory is that after more than a decade on Death Row, Wuornos was insane, and that she used her last remaining shreds of reason to hasten the day of her execution. She said whatever she thought would speed her date with death.
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