A-List: Charlize Theron

By Sean Collier

July 8, 2008

A-List indeed.

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Aileen Wuornos in Monster

It's impossible to praise this role enough. To say that Theron inhabits the mind and body of serial killer Aileen Wuornos is an understatement; it doesn't even seem like Charlize in there anymore. The aim of nearly every cinematic depiction of a human monster is to create some degree of sympathy for the devil; by the end of Monster, Theron has the viewer firmly entrenched in Wuornos' viewpoint, unable to believe in anything but her outlook and justification. When I saw this film, I wasn't able to stand up and leave the theater afterwards. If Charlize never made another film, she'd still be one of the finest actresses in recent memory for this role alone.

Britt Ekland in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers

The running theme of Stephen Hopkins' biopic of the late British superstar is that Sellers was never really a grown-up; in his comedy, in his anger, in his dealing with others, he almost always acted like a child in disguise. We are shown this immaturity ruining his first marriage with most-beloved Anne (Emily Watson;) when Sellers tracks down model Britt Ekland, based on a tip from a disingenuous psychic, Charlize's character seems the antidote. She's just as youthful and irreverent as he is, and doesn't have any of the worry that Anne carries in her face. Within a short period of time, however, Theron has completely transformed that youthfulness into rage at Sellers' carelessness. It's a tough switch, but she handles it gamely – she received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for the role.

Josey Aimes in North Country

Released a year after Monster, North Country was Theron's bid for a second consecutive Oscar – and she did receive a nomination, but lost out to Reese Witherspoon's turn as June Carter in Walk the Line. (I thought neither role deserved it over Felicity Huffman, but so it goes.) Theron's tough mom with an ugly past was probably her finest performance outside of Monster, but the film didn't really come together quite right in the end – a bit too long, and running on anger and desperation as fuel without much of a heart at the center. Still, North Country is certainly worth watching for fine performances by Theron, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and the criminally underrated Jeremy Renner.


Detective Emily Sanders in In the Valley of Elah

The fall of 2007 might have been the peak of Tommy Lee Jones' career. Between No Country for Old Men and this, the first film written and directed by Paul Haggis since Crash, the veteran was in top form. Jones was the main attraction in Elah, but Charlize's Detective sympathetic to the old soldier's struggle breathed new life into the tired female-cop-single-mom role.

One to Watch For

Next year, Babel screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga offers his first directing effort in nine years, the family drama The Burning Plain. Charlize stars alongside Kim Basinger in another one of Arriaga's multi-layered ensemble flicks. Charlize plays Sylvia, daughter to Basinger's Gina; the two try to reconnect after time apart following Sylvia's difficult childhood. The part seems close to some of the real events of Theron's life; it'll be interesting to see if she inhabits this role as richly as she did for that of Wuornos.

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