Fight Club
Rating -

Drama (US); 1999; Rated R; 139 Minutes

Brad Pitt: Tyler Durden
Edward Norton: Narrator, Jack
Helena Bonham Carter: Marla Singer
Meat Loaf: Robert Paulson
Jared Leto: Angel Face

Produced by Ross Bell, Cean Chaffin, John S. Dorsey, Art Linson and Arnon Milchan; Directed by David Fincher; Screenwritten by Jim Uhls; based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

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Written by DAVID KEYES

David Fincher's "Fight Club" is like sitting through some kind of demented lesson in male torture, in which people are amused at the site of blood spattering all over the pavement, and people throwing punches at each other just 'cuz they feel like it. This is the kind of story that predictably surrenders to the ferocity brought on by the characters, as it is a movie about insomniacs, schitzos and other people with similar disorders who beat themselves to a bloody pulp so that they can, I guess, feel better about themselves. But in the process of taking us on a roller coaster, Fincher makes too many loops and we fall directly out of our fastened seats; the movie is so shallow, so gross and so depressing that it leaves nasty tastes in our mouths, and makes us wish for hospitalization. Had any of this subject matter retained a decent plot or noteworthy drama, such visual barbarity could have been swayed. As it stands, however, "Fight Club" is nothing more than an exercise in lurid images and dark, nasty intuitions--an exercise that, I'm afraid, deserves a beating of its own.

The script is lifted from the pages of the popular Chuck Palahniuk novel, which, despite sharing equal repugnance with this movie, had an interesting message--that, in a way, we as men are masquerading around in modern society without the male instinct. We should be hunters, fighters, and macho. Sadly, the moral that erupts from the book is distinctively missing here. Instead of a nasty story with life lessons, what we have is testosterone-driven lunatics who enjoy pain, the sight of blood, and hearing bones crunch. David Cronenberg might have succeeded with the material--David Fincher doesn't.

The film has a promising start. Edward Norton, trying to duplicate some of the success he had with "American History X," plays Jack, an white-collar insomniac working for a major automobile manufacturer, suffering from self-pity. His doctor advises him to attend 12-step meetings for the survivors of testicular cancer, so that he can see what it's like to really have problems. Unfortunately, Jack's are just beginning--his apartment complex is destroyed shortly afterwards, his airline loses his luggage, and he meats a soap salesman named Tyler Duran, who has fascist views of the world he lives in. The combination of these three aspects puts Jack into a realm of almost mental sufferingóbut his "new friend," Duran, is about to change all of that. After a scene of hitting each other with bare fists, their life is realized: they must start a fight club.

This establishment attracts many--some with similar problems as Jack, others with different kinds. But all the same, they are there for one thing and one thing only: regaining their so-called male instinct, which Durden, the club's "dictator," seems to think we have all lost. "The first rule of Fight Club is: don't talk about Fight Club," he insists. But then there's a plot twist that makes us question the authority Durden has over his men. There are reports of Fight Club being organized not just in their neck of the woods, but all over the country. If these members are indeed silent, as the first rule states, then why a sudden outburst of membership in America?

Fincher has always been a creative man behind the camera, but he's gone too far this time. He emphasizes on so many gruesome details that it is a wonder his cinematographer is able to manage the camera so distinctively. The movie's style and mood are fantastic--I won't argue that. But if the camera is moving with such grace, shouldn't the images in front be a little less sickening? The only reason "Fight Club" is rated "R," and not "NC-17," is probably the fact that the MPAA thinks sex is more damaging to younger eyes than gratuitous violence.

I've never had a problem with brutal images. Some, like the ones in "Last House On The Left," even carry with them a realistic tone that we could relate and respond to. Since the message in "Fight Club" is discarded for the rugged imagery, we feel distanced from what the members of Fight Club are trying to prove--are they doing this to break free from the leashes of their plastic society, or are they doing this simply because Durden tells them to? The script is unsure of how to handle physical and psychological dilemmas.

And yet, once again, I seem to be in the minority here. As was the case with "The Sixth Sense" and "Arlington Road," I find myself breaking from the accord of general critic reaction. A reader of mine made an interesting point shortly before I wrote this review, stating that critics, such as myself, who don't follow the consensus tend to feel guilty for degrading a movie that so many people have positively responded to. But I say this without regret or reservation--"Fight Club" stinks worse than Godzilla's own dumping ground.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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