Stories like "Henry", "Monster", "Ed Gein", that are heavily biographical and focus on criminals, to me, are not really noir movies. How does one tell the difference between a noir movie that has crime in it and a crime movie? Even "The Honeymoon Killers" and "In Cold Blood" tend to be crime stories as opposed to noirs. "The Onion Field", like the latter two, is another borderline case. There are movies made about real world serial killers, and they are not noirs.
I'm unable to articulate what the key differences are that separate these two types of movies. It's the same with many gangster movies that are really not noirs. It's okay to lump them all together when nothing hinges on being sloppy about it, but if one is serious about it, how do you tell the difference? In my mind there are pure crime stories, pure gangster stories and there are noirs in which the crimes are only part of the story. The pure crime stories that are like biographies lack drama, and that's one thing that separates them from noir films, but it's an important thing.
In my initial comments, I tried to make a case that this was noir. I do not really feel this 7 years later. I think I was forcing the issue. I also overrated the picture. I also disagree with some statements I made. She is shown as a monster. How else to describe what she comes to? That review follows.
Charlize Theron in what should have been titled "Portrait of a Serial Killer", 16 May 2013
"Monster" is mistitled, because the character played by Charlize Theron is not shown as a monster. The writer-director took quite a different tack than that.
Movies based on real persons hardly ever are true to the facts of that personís life, and this movie is no exception. Itís best to look upon it as fiction, simply based on real life incidents, and/or take the movie and story for what it is, and not expect it to be telling some real life story in accurate detail. They almost never do.
Charlize Theron is a terrific actress. She gets into a character so thoroughly. What more can an audience ask? We see here a woman who first kills in self-defense, and then in hatred, and then for money, and eventually because she canít help herself. All the while, she is also killing in order to hold on to her lover, played by Christina Ricci.
I consider this film neo-noir. For one thing, there is its emphasis, in several parts of the script, about feeling trapped, about the rule of fate, about the strength of circumstance. Second is the pervasive crime element. Third, there is a running commentary and critique about the society around her. At one point, Theron expatiates on how the war-makers can kill and be heroes. She criticizes religion too and those who bring in God in order to control peopleís behavior, at one point saying that nobody knows what God wants. This is an incisive observation in a society that has lost its bearings. And since she is dealing with men who cannot get sex or enough sex or the kinds of sex they want in their marriages or with other women, but seek out hookers, there is an implied critique of a society whose mores, inhibitions and rules frustrate people.
Overall, itís quite a good film, even a courageous film, with an outstanding performance. This is one of the better films that attempt to get into the motivation of a multiple murderer. Itís a thorough character study.