Tired of being known as merely a pretty face in Hollywood, actress Charlize Theron decided to put her money where her mouth was, not only by thoroughly deglamorizing herself to portray real-life convicted serial killer Aileen Wuornos, but by co-producing the much-anticipated Wuornos biopic as well.

It paid off: Theron disappears into her role completely, giving us a spot-on interpretation of the real Aileen Wuornos: pathetic, violent, tragic, and off her rocker.

Instead of looking at Wuornos's entire troubled life, the story takes place between the time she establishes her first loving relationship with a woman (Christini Ricci plays Selby Wall, a fictional version of Wuornos's real-life lover Tyria Moore) and the time her seven murders finally put her on death row.

There's a lot of rich material to be mined from Wuornos's story, but Jenkins avoids exploring the political and feminist aspects of who Wuornos was, or why she did what she did (a prostitute for years, she claimed that the men she killed were only the johns who attempted to rape her; the film would have us believe this – at least for the first few victims). Instead it is basically a two-hander, a grand showcase for Theron and a lesser one for Ricci. That doesn't make it any less interesting. Just perhaps a little less relevant.

Nevertheless, Jenkins has written a lean, solid script, and directs with confidence and clarity. Ricci is strong in her role, raising suspicions about Moore's complicity in Wuornos's murders. And there's no getting around Theron's revelatory performance. It's so awesome that it may potentially raise the bar for Hollywood actresses who are willing to risk their images as beauty queens in order to finally act. Not every starlet has the chops that Theron has surprised us with here – I would rather not watch, say, Jennifer Love Hewitt as Catherine the Great – but films like Monster offer some hope.