Director: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson
Run Time: 166 mins
Blonde is the eagerly awaited fictional retelling of the life of Marilyn Monroe from director Andrew Dominik. Dominik is a terrific talent who hasn’t put a foot wrong from the chilling prison crime drama Chopper, the magnificent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the grim yet thrilling Killing Them Softly.
The film is an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel of the same name, which takes more than a few liberties of Monroe’s life and career. Naturally, Blonde has attracted controversy for this, as well as Dominik’s portrayal of Monroe, which many have labelled as exploitative.
While the film may have rubbed people the wrong way, it’s best to go into Blonde not expecting a biopic that rigidly sticks to fact and is instead a mechanism to interrogate fame in a horror-like setting.
Blonde is a bold and electrifying piece from Dominik – a hellish, unrelenting account that deftly captures the descent of Monroe’s life. The film argues Monroe was used and abused at every turn, a child-like figure who couldn’t handle herself. Redefining the parameters of the biopic genre, Blonde indebted to the style of David Lynch and Darren Aronofsky in its hallucinogenic portrayal of Monroe’s gloomy life. Dominik also experiments with colour and aspect ratios and there are numerous sequences which feel like they have been lifted straight from the 1950s.
The opening twenty minutes is particularly startling, a young Monroe (brilliantly played by Lily Fisher) suffering abuse at the hands of her mentally unstable mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson).
Dominik’s portrayal of the paparazzi and male gaze is also fascinating, especially how he meticulously recreates iconic images from Monroe’s career. The film is unflinching in its depiction of sexual violence and domestic abuse, thoroughly earning its 18-rating.
Its last act is a disorienting Lynchian descent into drug-fuelled mania. A scene where Monroe is sleeping is shot as if from the angle of a voyeur and she awakens from her slumber to check her surroundings. DP Chayse Irvin experiments with shadows and figures and there is definitely someone in the room.
Ana de Armas is terrific as Monroe, who disappears into the role of an individual that simply has no place in life. A scene where she watches her in-laws make pasta from scratch is particularly profound as she likens the technique to the writing of a script and how she can’t fit in.
Of the rest of the cast, Adrien Brody also turns in a brilliant performance as the playwright Arthur Miller, as does Julianne Nicholson as Monroe’s unhinged mother.
The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is breathtaking – a haunting and melancholic soundscape that is endlessly memorable and is the glue that holds the film together. It’s interesting that between Monroe’s childhood years, there is a lack of score until a polyamorous sexual encounter.
Chayse Irvin’s cinematography is mind-blowing. On top of the experimentation in colour and aspect ratio, a scene of Bobby Cannavale’s Joe diMaggio threateningly walking up a set of stairs is particularly striking, as is a disorienting sequence of characters walking through a corridor, made to feel as if it is one shot.
Blonde is not for the faint-hearted but this is a fierce and muscular horror-filled biopic of Monroe. It’s directed with real vigour, backed up by committed performance and a technical crew on top of their game. The 166 minutes fly by and a second watch unlocks even more substance. This is one of the best films of the year and worth the uncomfortably long wait for Dominik to direct a feature-length film.