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Fight Club (1999)

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 12/06/99 14:28:18

"Bloody Mess"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Brad Pitt has a mean set of pecs and abs in FIGHT CLUB. Which makes it kind of funny when he ridicules the men who sell designer underwear, since he is a walking advertisement. And he smokes in virtually every scene in this movie - how can he maintain that level of fitness? Perhaps he's a beer belly slob the rest of the time (a comfort to regular guys everywhere).

In FIGHT CLUB, Pitt is Tyler Durden - soap salesman and home-made explosives expert. He arrives partway into the story, when he enters the life of our Narrator (Edward Norton). The Narrator (whose name - as far as I recall - is not made explicit) has a dull, white-collar job and leads an emasculated, consumer-driven existence. He can't feel anything anymore, so he visits support groups for the terminally ill (though he's perfectly healthy) in the hope of shaking off his insomnia. Another support group junkie is Marla (Helena Bonham Carter as a grungy chain-smoker, doing her best to shrug off the period typecasting), who forms a love-hate relationship with the Narrator and later sleeps with Durden.

Tyler Durden arrives just as the first chinks are appearing in the Narrator's lifestyle. He's charismatic, supremely self-confident, insightful and without cynicism (just what our Narrator wants to be). When Durden encourages the Narrator to punch him, it's the impetus to form Fight Club - a secret movement of men who fight eachother bare-knuckle to FEEL something. The Narrator no longer needs the support groups, but what about Marla? Her character vanishes at the midpoint just when her intervention in the relationship between Durden and the Narrator promises to say something meaningful about the dynamic between the sexes. And then FIGHT CLUB abandons most of its exploration of ideas (and the inventive techniques that director David Fincher used to keep us interested) to become a fairly standard thriller.

If you haven't seen the movie, skip this paragraph because I'm going to give away something important. I haven't read the Chuck Palahniuk novel on which Jim Uhls' screenplay is based, but I want to now because I think the story's narrative twist - the Narrator and Tyler Durden are the same person - would work much better on the page. On-screen, it's all too literal - you have to believe Brad Pitt is an aspect of Edward Norton. I think Fincher and Uhls made a mistake in treating Palahniuk's revelation as a
rabbit-out-of-the-hat plot twist. There's no way you can see it coming in the movie; it's not something which is particularly well set-up or concealed - it just comes out of nowhere, and leaves you feeling alienated (it doesn't reward your cleverness). Norton is therefore back in the same multiple-personality territory as his first film, PRIMAL FEAR, but proves his skill as an actor because there's no similarity in the way he plays
this character.

His is the best Narrator to have - witty, sharp and ironic. It's a pleasure to be guided around his designer apartment, screwy workplace and support groups. Even when he decides that Tyler Durden is making Fight Club his and no longer theirs, and Norton's character descends into paranoia, he remains interesting to watch (even though the film is increasingly less so). Brad Pitt does another take on his 12 MONKEYS character - more posing and charisma, less stuttering, but still the same hammering intensity.

Although I wasn't so impressed with the last section of the film, Fincher directs with flair and always seems to pick interesting material. He just has to work on those endings! (I'm thinking of THE GAME here, not SE7EN, which sustained its style and atmosphere till the end). Ultimately, FIGHT CLUB the movie resembles the men of the group it's named after. They start out edgy and excited, willing to try something different, but end up following a familiar path. The cleverness is beaten out of them and they're left a bloody mess.

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