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Rarely does a lead actor dominate a film as Charlize Theron does this first feature (2003) by writer-director Patty Jenkins, playing Florida prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos (already the subject of two Nick Broomfield documentaries). Theron's performance is impressive not only for her physical transformation and willingness to be unattractive, but also for her determination to convey the character's profound emotional confusion and relative incoherence without making them part of any nudging thesis. Jenkins deserves credit as well for steering the film away from all the usual comforting exploitation standbys—honest curiosity and observation are what make this work, and in this respect Christina Ricci (as Wuornos's lover, Selby Wall) is almost as good as Theron. With Bruce Dern. R, 111 min.

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