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Review: Fight Club (1999)

Fight Club (1999)

Directed by: David Fincher 

Premise: An adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. An uptight white-collar worker (Edward Norton) pairs with a carefree and impulsive friend (Brad Pitt) to start an underground boxing organization. Things start to escalate out of control as the boxing club turns into a domestic terrorism cell that lashes out at corporate America.

What Works: Fight Club is a bold film that combines biting social satire with humor and drama while also delving into masculinity and manhood in the late 20th and early 21st century. The picture analyzes male aggression and is able to penetrate deeply into contemporary anxieties and dilemmas for men without insulting the audience by oversimplifying it and the film manages to have a few good laughs along the way. Rather than start right out with the fighting, Jack, Edward Norton’s character, seeks relief from his undefined anxiety by attending group therapy meetings and finds solace in the presence of testicular cancer survivors, men who have literally had their manhood removed. These scenes manage to produce big laughs while also making acute observations about the state of masculinity in this time of history. As Jack begins a relationship with Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), a chain smoking woman who he is simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by, the film adds another layer onto its criticism of masculinity; Bonham Carter is terrific in the role and delivers a lot of the laughs of the film with her deadpan humor. Brad Pitt plays Tyler, a man who is Jack’s polar opposite, impulsive while Jack is restrained, carefree while Jack is anxious, and a revolutionary thinker while Jack is stuck in the rubric of consumer culture. Pitt is terrific in the role, using the fun and swagger of his character in Oceans 11 and the kind of careful acting craft he displayed in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. When Jack gets together with Tyler and founds an underground boxing club, it is not just a distraction or a hobby, but a reclamation of manhood and an expression of the rage of someone enslaved by their possessions and a spiritually dead capitalist system. This separates Fight Club from so many other fight films that leave the violence as an end in itself without diagnosing the other factors that figure into it. As things escalate, the members of the organization turn their rage back on their corporate masters, attacking everything from trendy coffee shops to corporate art displays to high rise office buildings. As the film enters its final stages, Fight Club further complicates the relationship between Tyler and Jack until it reaches a moment of revelation that has been seen in other films, but rather than use it as a cheap gimmick, Fight Club uses this trick with thematic and narrative significance that catapults the film into yet another layer of meaning.

What Doesn’t: Some viewers have found the film’s violence and themes to be very disturbing. Fight Club is an assault on contemporary values and it is intended to shock and distress the viewer by undermining some of our underlying cultural beliefs. While that is the stuff good art is made of, Fight Club may find itself falling on deaf ears.

DVD extras: The two disc edition of Fight Club includes multiple commentary tracks, deleted and alternate scenes, still galleries, behind the scenes vignettes, and a promotional gallery.

Bottom Line: Fight Club is one of the best films to come out of the 1990s and is among David Fincher’s best work. Like The Matrix, Fight Club is a mainstream Hollywood film that is genuinely counter culturally hip and manages to be a great piece of entertainment while also cutting through the mendacity and superficiality of both the culture and of other action films.

Episode: #184 (March 30, 2008)