'Fight Club' was released ten years ago (1999) and was directed by David Fincher ('The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'). Proving that he was able to produce action blockbusters ('Alien 3') and also taut thrillers ('Seven'), Fincher looks to prove that he can also provide a combination of both genres with this movie. 'Fight Club' is based on the self titled novel by Chuck Palahniuk. Although not providing a huge box office draw at the time of its release, this movie was one the most controversial and talked about movies of 1999. Comparisons were drawn between it and 'Rebel without a Cause' for the impact which it had upon its audiences. It's political and social undertones inspired the youth at the time, with many underground and illegal fight clubs opening up around the globe following its release, gleaning this movie a huge “cult” following. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Effects and also picked up a number of additional accolades at lesser awards ceremonies. It has grown immensely popular since its release, cementing its place as one of the greatest movies in the last ten years.
Retrospectively speaking, as a long time collaborator of Fincher, it comes as no surprise that Brad Pitt ('Snatch') stars in one of the three main roles. Here he plays the legendary Tyler Durden. Tim Burton's favourite, Helena Bonham Carter ('Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince'), plays the feisty and icy Marla Singer. Edward Norton ('The Score') surprisingly sheds the muscle mass he gained to play Derek in 'American History X', to play an unnamed lead character in this movie; I'll call his character Jack (”I am Jack's raging bile duct”) for the purpose of this review. There are also a number of familiar faces who crop up along the way, playing secondary but highly important and memorable characters. The most notable of these are the mighty Meat Loaf, who plays Robert “Bob” Paulson, and a platinum blond Jared Leto, who plays Angel Face. It's without question that Fincher chose his cast very carefully and has assembled a powerhouse of acting talent, all at the peak of their careers, for this movie.
The movie focuses on Jack, who is a product recall specialist for a major car company. Jack's job entails travelling the length of breadth of the USA to analyse horrific car accidents and to determine if his company should perform a recall based on a magic formula; “You take the number of vehicles in the field (A) and multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B), multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement (C). A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one”. He is an extreme insomniac and a typical white collar worker, obsessed with accumulating “stuff” in an effort to make his life seem more complete. He's got no real friends or family and all of his worldly possessions are housed in a 1700 square foot condo. His life is empty and he secretly longs for a way to painlessly end it all. With his doctor refusing to dole out any more pills to aid his sleep depraved patient, Jack begins to look for alternative solutions to his problems.
He finds the perfect cure; focus groups for various debilitating illnesses and diseases ( “If I said nothing people always assumed the worst”). Popping along to blood parasite and testicular cancer support groups on a daily basis, Jack allows his emotions to spill forth in these meetings, releasing his years of pent up aggression and self loathing due to the miserable existence he is trapped in. Months of glorious natural sleep follow. But things begin to go awry when another “tourist” joins these groups, Marla Singer.
Marla......that little cut on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it....... but you can't.
Jack confronts Marla about her unwelcome intrusion, threatening to expose her as a faker, a threat she gladly reciprocates. A wild and free spirit who attends the focus groups because they're cheaper than a movie and there's free coffee, Marla is not one to be intimidated by a weak willed individual such as Jack. So, they agree to split the focus groups and go their separate ways. Jack, once again, returns to his uninterrupted blubbing and subsequent blissful natural sleep.
Jack meets many “single serving friends” on the numerous cross country flights he takes, chatting intimately for the duration of the flight, only never to lay eyes on them again once the journey has come to an end. One such single serving friend turns out to be an exception to the rule, his name is Tyler Durden. Tyler is a soap magnate and is completely liberated from the possessions which many obsess over; selling the soap he makes from the discarded fat of liposuction clinics ( “The fat of the land” ) back to the overweight upper class housewives from whom the soapy raw materials were liberated from in the first place! Following an aeronautical encounter with Jack, they exchange pleasantries and phone numbers. Returning to his beloved condo, Jack gets a rude awakening, his condo is no longer there; it's been destroyed in a massive explosion. Turning to the only “friend” he has, Jack calls Tyler to go for a beer. Accosting Jack for not having the guts to ask him can he stay over, even after three pitchers of beer, Tyler eventually offers him a room in his Paper Street mansion (dilapidated and run down of course). But there's a condition - Jack must hit Tyler as hard as he can. This request from Tyler is based on the simple fact that he's never been in a fight and doesn't want to die without any scars! The two proceed to beat the living hell out other; feeling strangely liberated and having really enjoyed the experience, it's not long before other males also begin to see the attraction. Thus the foundations for Fight Club are laid and it's not long before Tyler and Jack's club evolves into something far more grandiose and important than a simple “Men Only” club.
“The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club; The second rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club”
This is about the ninth or tenth time that I have seen this movie and I have to admit that it gets better with each viewing; a rarity for such a modern movie. The concepts outlined in the plot and the attack on the consumer driven society which we live in is as powerful, if not more so, than it was ten years ago. Tyler and Jack live in their dilapidated hovel in Paper Street, casting aside all their worldly possession and living a base and frugal life. As fighting becomes the focus, everything else seems completely insignificant and unimportant. Both begin to cast aside their social shackles, such as employment, and embark on a nihilistic spree of organised chaos and destruction. As founders of the club, both Jack and Tyler ascend to the status of demi-gods - it seems at times as though they've created a new religion/way or life, rather than a simple underground combat organisation. The many social commentaries which Tyler unleashes are initially amusing but then, rather disturbingly, begin to ring through. His attack on advertising, capitalism and the hold which the credit card companies have over the population of America makes complete sense, adding a distinct layer of realism to the entire plot. The entire piece mounts an assault on acceptable values and ways of living, exposing a nation of consumer slaves and worker drones, with nothing forward to other than death after a long and fruitless life.
Aside from these sociological musings, the plot runs deep and contains enough mischief, mayhem and incredibly well choreographed fight sequences (not to mention soap!) to keep even the most testosterone hungry alpha-male cinema goer engrossing for the duration of the run time. Be warned though, some of the aforementioned fights are very brutal, graphic and realistic; not for the faint hearted. With such complex and unconventional characters, it takes a special kind of actor to pull this off without raising a few eyebrows of disbelief. This is where Pitt comes in huge. He is simply stunning in this philosophical anarchist/puppet master role and this is, in my opinion, his secondary standout performance (the first being 'Snatch' - review coming soon to AVForums). He has created, in Tyler Durden, one of the most effortlessly cool and attractive/inspirational male characters of the last fifty years. The fact that hundreds attending Halloween parties dressed as Tyler following the release of this movie stands as testament to this fact. Norton is also comparably strong in his role. He plays an “everyman” who is on the verge is mowing down everyone in his boring office with an AK47 if he does not find an outlet for his pent up aggression and frustration; a role he plays to perfection as Jack's mind unravels and descends into chaos. Carter plays one of her usual dishevelled and decrepit, yet strangely beautiful, characters with her usual Goth-princess flair; a technique which is perfectly suited to Marla's character. Marla resembles Bonham's character in 'Corpse Bride' on a number of occasions, almost accentuating the run down and dilapidated nature of Tyler and Jack's Paper Street hovel. Like her two male counterparts she is a tour de force here. All of the extensive supporting cast are also very strong and wholly believable for the duration, even during the complex fight scenes. Special kudos goes to the mighty Meat, who really brings immense weight (no pun intended) and characterisation to Robert “Bob” Paulson”.
This really is a magnificently multi-layered piece of film-making, which is underpinned by both Fincher's incredible direction and the almost flawless plot. He infuses the entire production with filters and other techniques which afford a tone of grit, dirt and grunge (namely imperfection). For example, the drab and dreary world of Jack's office life is given a suitable boring greenish filter. One of Tyler's jobs is as a projectionist, a role he spices up considerably by splicing single frames of pornography into children's movies. This hilarious practice is mirrored by Fincher, who has spliced single frame blips of Tyler into the movie before his character is even introduced formally. Fincher has also thrown lots of other neat tricks into the mix, such as infusing Jack's condo with the information from the pages of his IKEA catalogue, to further cement the control the big companies have over the consumer. In another scene, the camera tilts and falls through the thirty or so floors of a skyscraper, which similar to the explanation of how Jack's apartment is annihilated; both are visually stunning and innovative. His decision to open the movie with the closing scenes and then to stumble back over the proceedings to explain how Jack finds himself in this predicament is executed to perfection. Even the mini galactic microcosm of the bin is a novel and interesting approach to conveying simple concepts. The script is super slick and contains a huge wealth of quotable dialogue, which is used by Fincher to accentuate his equally slick direction.
The movie is lengthy but never at any point did I find myself looking at my watch; it's that fascinating and really doesn't relinquish it's grasp on your jugular until the closing titles roll. The camera angles are unusual, chaotic and really suit and add energy to the presentation. The audio is sublimely mixed and exquisitely engineered. Its expressionist and impressionist (as the movie progresses) tones really add a layer of depth and texture to the movie. Sure there are undertones of sado-machism and there aren't many female characters in this movie (I think there are three in total) but this is a movie which is made for men, like Yorkie bars! Seriously though, it's a movie that is accessible to both males and females but its most certainly not one that will appeal to everyone; largely due to the graphic content. For those who can stomach these scenes (or relish in them as this reviewer did), or indeed the cripplingly depressive focus group scenes for that matter, you are in for a real treat. Usually movies such as this are made on a shoestring budget by an underground studio - this is one of those rare occasions where a great story has been granted the appropriate budget, director and cast to do the source material justice. This is simply one of the greatest movies of the last ten years. The central performances, especially from Pitt, are stunning and I can't flaw any of the cast on their portrayal of the difficult and complex characters which they play. The direction from Fincher is superb, adding countless flairs and nuances, which require repeated viewings to fully appreciate. The plot is superbly paced, with more twists, turns and surprises that you could hope for, which is underpinned by some delightfully dark humour. Even repeated viewings don't spoil the plot in any way, but merely add to it on so many levels. There are not many movies that I would give full marks to and this is one of those rare occasions. This simply is a must own movie for all fans of great cinema.
“The things you own end up owning you"
"It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything"
Our Review Ethos