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Fight Club

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Fight Club

Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt
Director: David Fincher
Rated: R
RunTime: 139 Minutes
Release Date: October 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Jared Leto, Eion Bailey

Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

Hear or read a story about _Fight_Club_, and chances are it's about violence--that is, the film's amount and glorification of it. Indeed, there is a fair amount of brutality on display in David Fincher's adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel (after all, the film is called _Fight_Club_), but that's just a mean to an end. And the end--in every sense of the word--is but one of the many striking blows this electrifying, electrified film deals its unsuspecting audience. Physical violence may give the initial sting, but it's the film's psychological violence that leaves the lasting impression.

For all the carnage on display, what comes as the greatest shock while watching _Fight_Club_ is realizing that the film is a _comedy_--albeit a dark and very cynical one at that (and what else could it be, coming from _Se7en_ and _The_Game_ maestro Fincher?). The tone is set by our nameless, Everyman narrator (Edward Norton, award-worthy as usual) whose boredom with his mind-numbing job and life leads to a perpetual case of insomnia. To fill his sleepless nights, he indulges in some strange addictions: first, shopping from catalogs, in particular those of IKEA; then attending support groups for people with ailments he never has and likely never will suffer himself. But when he discovers another unafflicted person, one Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter, cast way against type and delivering), making the rounds at his meetings, he finds himself without a worthwhile time-consuming vice.

The ultimate addiction comes after the narrator returns home from a business trip to find that his apartment and all his precious catalog-purchased items have been lost in a mysterious explosion. With nowhere else to turn, he impulsively calls homemade soap salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), whom he met on the returning flight. After having perhaps too many beers, the two get into a playful but no less brutal fistfight outside of a bar, catching the attention and inciting the involvement of a few other patrons. Thus begins the strange underground society of senseless organized beatings known as Fight Club.

Which leads to numerous scenes of men graphically pounding each other into a blood-drenched pulp, which, in turn, has led to charges that _Fight_Club_ glorifies violence. There is some evidence supporting that argument: the fisticuffs fuel our emasculated narrator's spiritual liberation; and Fincher, never one to shy away from grisliness in previous films, doesn't pass up an opportunity to linger over every last gory detail. It is overkill, no doubt--but that's precisely the joke. The violence is so extreme as to be over-the-top, much like everything else in this film--to ridiculous effect. The fight scenes are really not all too different opening sections of the film, which detail the narrator's goods-obsessed lifestyle in often literal detail (at one point, prices and product descriptions appear in his apartment out of thin air, turning it into a living catalog page). In doing so, Fincher underscores the absurdity of that life--and in the violent scenes, all the blood just drives home the idiocy behind the beat-or-get-beaten-to-self-fulfillment philosophy.

As the underground Fight Club mutates into the very visible Project Mayhem under Tyler's guidance, the narrator comes to see the light and sets out to stop his partner-in-crime, which turns out to be much more easily said than done, but not in the way he expects. This point of the story has also been debated about (and will leave a number of audiences talking), with the negative comments calling it a cheap trick. Far from it. More than just a powerful reinforcement of the film's theme of how the rigidity of society reins in the freedom to express and simply be who one is, it also ties into Fincher and scripter Jim Uhls' slyest joke. I won't give it away, but it's related to an idea Tyler expresses where identity itself is a product, with public figures being the walking billboards for an unattainable ideal. In that respect, the casting of Pitt--who does a terrific job in any respect--reveals itself to be especially canny.

_Fight_Club_ is about submission, but not the bloody submission many men pummel each other into through the course of the film. It is, however, about a different type of submission--that of unique human identity to the homogenization of consumer-driven culture. The brave, subversive, and wholly intoxicating way in which Fincher makes his point is far more shocking than any fight scene in this stunning and important cinematic work.

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