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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.83%
Worth A Look45.83%
Average: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 12 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Whether you want it or not, an up-close-and-personal look at the man."
4 stars

I'm still waiting for Jeremy Renner to be given the chance to build on the promise he shows in 'Dahmer,' a quietly incisive portrait of the notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Looking at times uncannily like a young Kevin Spacey (and at others, particularly at his most mischievous, like Malcolm McDowell circa Clockwork Orange and O Lucky Man!), Renner gets inside Dahmer and, upsettingly, takes us with him. He's as affecting as the teenage Dahmer furtively beginning his path to damnation as he is haunting as the older Dahmer beyond redemption (and knowing it). At all times, though, he also makes Dahmer smart enough to be hellishly manipulative -- he may look dazed and passive, but the bastard thinks fast on his feet, the better to hoodwink those around him (as well as his unsuspecting victims). There's a chilling scene wherein he fools some cops into releasing an escaped victim back into his custody (which really happened), while two black women who see Dahmer for what he is protest in vain. The scene speaks volumes about police racism (the victim is Asian, too) without ever preaching.

Dahmer has come in for some criticism because it barely shows the full horror of what Dahmer did. To some extent, that's true. Writer-director David Jacobson most likely assumes we already know the ghastly details, and wants to come at the story from a different angle. Making it more difficult for himself, Jacobson doesn't indulge in any blame-the-parents-for-the-psycho -- indeed, Dahmer's dad (Bruce Davison) is depicted as a decent man frustrated by being locked out of major parts of his son's life. Jacobson doesn't dabble in much analysis, either: Dahmer is what he is. But what he is, aside from the monster we know from the headlines, is a human being. And that's not to excuse his actions remotely -- we need to understand that people like Dahmer don't land here from another planet; they are carbon-based life forms like the rest of us, and simply holding them at arm's length as "monsters" won't prevent the development (or aid the detection) of future Dahmers.

This isn't a horror movie so much as a -- sorry -- psychodrama. There's scarcely any bloodshed, and even the most grisly segment -- Dahmer slitting open a victim's belly and fishing around inside -- is muted by unfolding in a red-lighted bedroom. Jacobson doesn't want you to recoil; he wants you to see the loathsome acts in terms of the meaning they have for Dahmer. Perhaps also he wants you to see them as antiseptically as Dahmer possibly forced himself to see them.

What's the point of soft-pedaling the acts of a monster? Well, showing it in full gorehound glory would be horribly insensitive to the friends and family of Dahmer's real-life victims (even though the film admits upfront that it's fictionalized) and carry the unpalatable side effect of being a gross-out fun video for sickos. It should be said that Jacobson humanizes the victims -- especially "Rodney" (Artel Kayaru), the victim who got away -- so that the focus of the film becomes Dahmer's highly damaged mode of interaction with his prey. If you want a different take on Dahmer, there's always 1993's The Secret Life -- Jeffrey Dahmer, written by and starring Carl Crew, and released on video not long before Dahmer was killed in prison.

Worth a look, if only for Renner's complex performance, but also for Jacobson's artful (yet never artsy) direction. It's a fine addition to the small but growing subgenre of Serious Serial-Killer Movies. And as long as humanity is fascinated by such people (i.e., forever), there will be movies made about them, so they may as well be soberly intentioned and brilliantly acted.

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originally posted: 12/29/06 14:59:39
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User Comments

2/23/10 A Former Milwaukeean Very unsettling, slowburning portrait of the serial killer. Renner and Karayu are great! 5 stars
8/31/09 Doctor FranknFurter Great casting. Assumes a new angle instead of focusing on gore. 4 stars
8/26/08 Kaydie Larson GREAT FLICK! those of you who do not like it, you need to watch it, more to get the message 5 stars
9/15/07 Alyssa Hale It did hold my interest, but I didn't like it. 3 stars
8/27/06 JeromeBosch On a level rarely seen. 4 stars
9/25/05 Total Crap I didn't see him eat one person. Still creepy performance by Renner. 3 stars
7/23/05 Brandy Harrington Fantastic. 5 stars
8/24/04 Kyle Slow at times, but still held my interest. Awsome acting by Jeremy Renner. 5 stars
6/11/04 Douglas Renner's performance alone is enough for me to rate this AWSOME! 5 stars
5/24/04 Butterbean A chilling movie that graciously skimped on the gore. 4 stars
10/06/03 Darryl Jeremy Renner is excellent. A remarkable actor. Definitely worth a look. 4 stars
3/26/03 Angry Black Man Bought this dvd. A good indie film, but not factual. Lead actor Brilliant. 4 stars
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  21-Jun-2002 (R)
  DVD: 21-Jun-2005



Directed by
  David Jacobson

Written by
  David Jacobson

  Jeremy Renner
  Bruce Davison
  Artel Kayaru
  Matt Newton
  Dion Basco
  Kate Williamson

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