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Radio Free Movie Reviews

Radio Free Entertainment


Review by Andrew Manning (11/99)

Release: 1999, 20th Century Fox
Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: David Fincher
MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language, sexuality
Genre: Drama/Action
Runtime: 139 minutes

Mischief. Mayhem. Soap...

Edward Norton
Edward Norton

Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt

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When a young man (Norton) becomes smothered with the drudgery of modern day existence, he seeks out something--anything--to make him feel alive. His journeys lead him to the charismatic Tyler Durden (Pitt), who introduces him to an underground organization of disillusioned young men called Fight Club. In secret, cult-like meetings, the men of Fight Club beat the crap out of each other for sport. But things quickly become out of control when Fight Club threatens to explode into conventional society with its anarchist code of behavior. Based upon the book by Chuck Palahniuk.


Blistering and disturbing, Fight Club is a fast paced rush of adrenaline boasting amazing performances from both Pitt and Norton.


As Norton's narrator of the story puts it, "How much do you really know about yourself until you've been in a fight?" The rush of emotions, the raw, animalistic instincts for survival that surface in a fight can reveal the true nature of a man. This is at the core of Fight Club, a dark glimpse into the heart of the disillusioned youth of modern America.

Edward Norton has delivered so many fine performances in his relatively short career that his excellence here in Fight Club really comes as no surprise. His roles as a schizophrenic psycho in Primal Fear, a sly hustler in Rounders, and a dangerous Neo-Nazi in American History X were all worthy of Academy Awards. In Fight Club, Norton reinvents himself yet again to deliver an all new character with complete and utter believability. As a minor cog in the giant corporate machine, Norton deftly acts out the disappointment of young men burdened with the horrors of the suit-and-tie business world. Society claims that hard work and playing by the rules will yield many rewards, but more often than not, it only traps people in tiny cages called cubicles and subjects them to 9 to 5 monotony and a token paycheck.

Coming off as a bigger surprise (and a welcome one at that) is Brad Pitt's performance. As the flagship personality of Fight Club, he passes himself off as a soap salesman. But as the story unfolds, we learn that he is something far more insidious, and unpredictably dangerous. Considering that Pitt has played so many wimpy pretty boys in his career (Interview with the Vampire, Sleepers, and a naive Grim Reaper in Meet Joe Black), it's a shock that he comes across as so dangerous and menacing when he slides into the role of Tyler Durden. The character possesses a roguish charm, behind which hides the mind of a nihilistic madman. He is chaos incarnate, and that's what makes him so fun to watch. He's the type of villain that audiences love more than the hero, an anti-hero with such an enchanting message of mad genius that people instantly fall under his spell.

Then there's the story itself, which is bleak and twisted enough to make Fight Club one of the most disturbing movies of the year. The gritty atmosphere and dark mood put it on par with Joel Schumacher's 8MM and two of director David Fincher's earlier works, The Game and Seven. The script is based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, which I have just begun to read. (Yes, I admit it with no guilt: I see the movie first, and if I like it, I read the book afterwards.) From what I've read so far, the book is even more twisted than the movie. So, to summarize the ingredients: the director of Seven, writing derived from a book that doesn't pull a single punch, and outstanding performances from the two lead actors. Frankly, you just can't go wrong with all that. And if the Academy had any balls, they'd nominate this one for Best Picture.

In many ways, Fight Club bears striking similarities in theme to the recent, critically acclaimed American Beauty. The idea of being a slave to existence is predominant in both films, as well as themes of disillusionment and the failure of the American dream (damn, I feel like I'm in high school English class again). But age demographics of the main players aside, the thing that sets the two movies apart is the way they deliver the message. Where American Beauty leads you by the hand and points things out like a museum tour, Fight Club just straps you to a rollercoaster, then straps a bomb to you. It's a fast paced, non-stop, explosive journey that disturbs and horrifies your sense of reality.

Quite simply, it totally f*cks with the status quo.

Edward Norton and Brad Pitt


A love triangle in which Norton and Pitt fight over Helena Bonham Carter dilutes the intensity of the rest of the movie. The whole situation felt more than a little forced, and I sensed no chemistry between Norton's and Bonham Carter's characters. In all fairness, though, I will admit that some screwed up things come out of her mouth, adding to the offensiveness of Fight Club.

And while we're on the subject of offensiveness, let me add that I'm sure there will be no shortage of protests against this film. Hell, one of the factors that pushed Fight Club's release date from summer to fall was the reluctance of 20th Century Fox to throw the film out in the wake of school shootings. It's true that this movie is extremely violent, and those who can't stomach watching severe beatings will probably hate it. However, Fight Club distinguishes itself as that rare movie in which the violence, although abundant, is not gratuitous, and serves a purpose. It shows the despair, the pent up rage, and the sick mentality of its participants. Unfortunately, I don't think activist groups that protest stuff like that cut their definitions of violence so fine. Too bad...

Rating: 9 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

Buy the Fight Club novel by Chuck Palahniuk.
Buy the Fight Club soundtrack.

This film has won the following 1999 Radio Free Movie Awards:

Editors' Choice
Best Psycho Villain, Brad Pitt


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