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Broomfield Humbled by ‘Life and Death’ of Wuornos
by Jeremy Mathews

“Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer”
Lantern Lane Entertainment
Directed by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill
Produced by Jo Human
Featuring Aileen Wuornos and Nick Broomfield
Not Rated

(out of four)

In “Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer,” Nick Broomfield is refreshingly less self-assured than in his usual film. The British documentarian has built a career on documentaries like “Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam,” “Kurt and Courtney,” and “Biggie and Tupac,” in which he inserts the personal story of his investigation into his often tabloid-bordering topics. In his latest work on serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the morality of the execution walks the line between inhumane and merciful as we see a scarred, insane woman sent to death after many years of pain.

Wuornos, often cited as America’s first female serial killer whom Charlize Theron recently portrayed in “Monster,” committed seven unforgivable murders. But it’s impossible not to feel empathy for someone who became a prostitute when she was 9 years old and grew doubtful of men (including some of the innocent ones she murdered) after multiple rapes.

In his new documentary, Broomfield includes his last few interviews with Wuornos, including her final one, made shortly before her execution. He’s the only person she’d talk to before her execution, apparently having appreciated his 1992 film, “Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer,” which exposed corruption among Wuornos’ family, friend, lawyer and Florida police officers who were selling book and TV deals for the scandalous story.

The interviews are engaging, confusing and disturbing, showing a woman who is clearly insane and oscillates between suicidal fatalism, paranoia and glimpses of evil as she says that she’ll start killing again if she doesn’t die soon. The only belief she sticks to is that the police knew where she was, but let her kill so that they could sell the rights to her story for more money. In one moment, she even denies her original, detailed testimony of her first victim’s (a known sex offender) abuse, which Broomfield believes triggered the killing of the innocent men afterward.

Broomfield first re-enters the story during the final appeals attempts. He managed to get cameras in both the courtroom and the hotel where the witnesses were sequestered. He speaks with some of Aileen’s few friends, one of whom later brings him on a tour of her childhood, including the woods where Wuornos lived for a few years.

In court, Broomfield discovers that he’s present because the prosecution doubts the validity of the first film’s portrayal of Wuornos’ lawyer, known as Dr. Legal, in bad TV ads. The prosecutor accuses Broomfield of misleading editing of the footage of Dr. Legal driving and smoking the “seven-joint ride” to his client’s hearing. He’d originally thought that he’d be able to help Wuornos, but he finds that even if the lawyers wanted him, Aileen doesn’t want her life saved. But she does use him three times as a trustworthy outlet for her thoughts, delusions and emotions.

The final interview comes after three psychiatrists “evaluated” Wuornos to make sure that she was mentally fit for execution a month before Jeb Bush’s re-election. But that interview alone is enough to make the case that this woman was not of sound mind. But Broomfield also acknowledges that Wuornos wanted her painful life to be over.

“Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer” concludes with its traditionally cocky narrator left looking at a questionable execution of a scary woman who wanted to die. The heartbreaking final scenes simply remind us of Aileen’s horrible childhood, wondering if the pretty girl had to become a monster.

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