Friday, June 3, 2011

Edward Norton Fights For Top Billing In Fight Club

The Good: Well written, good plot, good characters, fine acting, excellent pace
The Bad: Execution of theme
The Basics: A surprisingly good film that is tightly written, well-executed and ultimately re-watchable, the xext time you think life stinks, watch Fight Club!

Fight Club came to me highly recommended by two people who I respect very much. I'm pleased to say they lived up to their reputations in my life with their recommendation. Unfortunately, one of the two continues to insist that Fight Club is the absolute best film of 1999, while I think American Beauty (reviewed here!) actually deserved that honor (American Beauty was one of the few films that won "Best Picture" and deserved it in recent years.).

Have you ever seen the episode of The Simpsons where Springfield has a film festival? When the critics of the films are voting for their favorite film, Jay Sheman says, "I vote for Barney Gumble's . . . film, unfortunately titled 'Puka-a-hontis.'" Well, Fight Club has the same problem, if not quite so extreme. Fight Club is a horrible title to sell this film with. Likewise, billing Brad Pitt as the star of the movie is equally problematic. We've seen a film like Fight Club before: it's called 12 Monkeys. And Brazil (reviewed here!). In fact, American Beauty, too.

Outside the problematic nature of the title and making it seem like Brad Pitt is the star, the only other two problems are Brad Pitt's acting and thematic issues. Brad Pitt gives a good performance. But it was a mistake to cast him in the role; it's too close to the magnificent performance he gave in 12 Monkeys. Throughout the film, I kept thinking Tyler Durgen was too close to Jeffery.

The real issue I had with the film was the execution of the theme. Fight Club is essentially about man's disillusionment with today's society. It's a rejection of capitalism. That's a wonderful theme. It's about emasculated men attempting to take back their lives and their place in society. Eh. The former theme is expertly dealt with in "Brazil" and the latter was more positively dealt with in American Beauty. It's an old theme. There's an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine - "Paradise" - that fumbles with both themes. "Paradise" has problems executing the theme in that everything appears too black and white. I now applaud the episode (probably one of the bottom ten episodes of the series) for at least being constructive. In "Paradise," Sisko challenges a community that rejects technology. It provides a pretty balanced argument. Fight Club is very one-sided. We, the viewers, must provide the counter-argument. And while "Paradise" has an unsatisfying ending, at least Fight Club was consistent. That is, when the themes were being dealt with, my stomach turned. My stomach remained turned through the climax.

So, what's my real beef? Fight Club rejects capitalism and attempts to re-masculate the men in it by creating clubs where men pound the piss out of each other. It's actually clever in one respect and that is it never makes explicit that the purpose of the fight club is to feel pain to realize you're still alive. That is, sometimes even feeling pain is wonderful because that lets you know you are alive. The film subtly moves from that into a cult story where Tyler Durgen is organizing an apocalypse to bring down the capitalist infrastructure of the U.S. Sigh.

The reason Fight Club works at the beginning is why it fails at the end. The Fight Club reminds its members they are alive and have something to look forward to outside their normal lives. It's quite a leap of suspension of disbelief then to think that they would all then become members of a cult (which, by the by, is not dissimilar to the Army of the 12 Monkeys . . . hmmm). That is, when we free ourselves from one set of shackles, what incentive do we have - thus aware - to shackle ourselves to another place. Perhaps that's the writer's point. Regardless, I'm left with the same problems with the themes or, more accurately, the execution of them in this film.

The final problem is that the end resolves nothing. The plot comes to a head, but the character issues still remain.

Outside that, it's a wonderful film. Usually I'd spend an equal or greater amount of time counterbalancing my argument. Basically, I'm recommending the film, yet I'm spending a good amount of space exploring my problems and issues with the movie. If I like it so much, I ought to spend a greater amount of time saying what's wonderful about it. Eh, too bad I'm not going to here. If you trust my reasons for not liking the film, trust my voice when I say the positive elements of the film outweigh my issues with it.

The truth is, everything else about the film is wonderful. And even though I have issues with the execution of the themes, given the tack they took, I think the film does it well. Edward Norton is amazing as the protagonist. He deserved top billing. The writing is tight. There's a reversal, a Kaiser Soze-type surprise that's not completely surprising (which is good because when I reached it, I said, "That makes sense" as opposed to "Oooh, I'm SO surprised!") and it comes at a good time in the film.

In all, the movie makes sense. The characters are vivid, if misguided. It's a wonderful film. Too bad about the title, though.

For other films that muse on the nature of humanity and reality, check out my reviews of:
Bicentennial Man
Sucker Punch


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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