Fight Club - * * *

The first rule about Fight Club is that you don’t talk about fight club. I’m about to break that rule. Director David Fincher (of Seven, and The Game fame) is back with a new film, and you should know by now what to expect: a relentlessly bleak, but wonderfully shot tale of despair. He doesn’t break new ground in Fight Club, but he does take the dark ideas from his previous films even farther here.

Edward Norton stars as a white-collar worker, who has become increasingly unhappy with his consumer-oriented life. Plagued with insomnia, he finds himself depressed and unable to see the purpose of his pathetic existence. His search for meaning leads him to attend various deadly disease support groups, where the openness and raw emotion become the only truly real thing in his life.

Enter Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), an unorthodox soap salesman with a rather anarchic world view. The pair meet, and quickly bond. When Edward Norton’s apartment is blown up in a freak accident, Tyler Durden is the man he calls for help, and the two men quickly become inseparable.

Since years of self-improvement have never led to happiness, the pair decide to give self-destruction a try. To taste the sting of life, the pair begin to have bare knuckle fights just for fun. Soon, this pasttime becomes a passion, as more and more disaffected men yearning for more join this elite secret society: Fight Club. But the anarchy doesn’t stop there, and Tyler has plans for the group that go well beyond anyone’s imagination.

A true adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club, seemed impossible. With a twisty timeline, surreal developments, and radical ideas scattershot all over the plot, the novel must have been a screenwriter’s nightmare to adapt. However, Jim Uhls tackled the task admirably, successfully creating order out of chaos. Edward Norton reads a heavy narration through the film, usually a bad move, but in this case it works. With witty dialogue lifted straight from the book, the narration further enhances the film’s unique world view.

Like Fincher’s previous work, Fight Club is unrelentlessly bleak. Full of provocative ideas and brutal, brutal violence, his film is a portrait of the downfall of modern civilization. The dehumanizing aspects of society are shown as an emasculating force, against which a group of men rebel by giving in to their primary urges of chaos and destruction. Sensitive viewers may take offense at the film’s destructive, fascistic and misogynistic themes, but that’s only if they can last through the film’s intensely ugly depiction of violence. Those who can stomach the violence and the film’s unusual message are in for a treat, however. Fight Club is visually inventive, and a tremendous treat to watch

Though there are many punches literally thrown in Fight Club (the film is not for the slightly squeamish of stomach), one aspect which can’t stand a punch is the characterization. Edward Norton has the strongest character, and even his is paper thin. As Tyler Durden, Brad Pitt is all attitude, and no substance. We never learn what makes these men tick, even though we are shown they tick in the most explosive of ways.

Things aren’t much better in the supporting cast. Helena Bonham Carter plays the sometime girlfriend of Tyler. However, a shallowly drawn character, her sole purpose in the film is to de-emphasize the homosexual aspects of the film’s many male-to-male relationships. In the film’s only other supporting role of substance, Meat Loaf plays a man who is literally emasculated (as a testicular cancer survivor with hormonal problems). Though his character might have had substance, he is merely played as a quick joke, and never seems real.

Brilliantly shot and intensely provocative, Fight Club never matches the genius of Fincher’s crowning achievement, Seven. Still, his stunning visual style carries the film well past its faults, and (provided you can stomach the blood…and the message) Fight Club will be a film you remember.

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