"Fight Club," David Fincher, Film Review
Who would win an actual fight between Helena Bonham Carter and Brad Pitt? It's a theoretical question that I'd love to see put to experiment. Despite Pitt's "Sun's Out, Guns Out" gym bod, I wouldn't bet against Bonham Carter. She was on fire at this time, desperate to prove that she could do more than the corset-cutie roles that made her name, following on from her Oscar success in The Wings of the Dove, and well before her affluent pantomime act of recent years.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Regardless of David Fincher's flashy direction, the strengths and weaknesses of Fight Club the film are the same as the strengths and weaknesses of Chuck Palahniuk's novel. He may be a shock jock at times but Palahniuk is a decent writer with good artistic judgement. It's the ideas of this novel and film that stay in the memory – finding solace through fake self-help groups, stealing washing from laundrettes to sell, making soap from human fat, proving yourself with chemical burns, pulverizing a pretty rival (to his own imaginary friend).
Review continues below...
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The scene where Ed Norton beats himself up to get sacked has strong parallels with the sacking-with-benefits scene in American Beauty, and both scenes are ridiculously improbable (as I mentioned in my review of American Beauty here) – you don't beat The Man that easily. No way. But at least Palahniuk links his sacking nicely with the overall fighting theme of the story. The two films can be viewed as a pair, both showing middle class characters applying their well-educated brains to escaping the ideological constructs that gave them the ability to think outside of the box in the first place.
Middle class self-loathing seeps from Fight Club. Only the physical pain and violence of fighting (something that professional office workers would ordinarily do anything to avoid) can free these men from their bondage.
When Edward Norton's character meets Tyler Durden on the plane and makes his 'single serving friend' gag, and Tyler says 'Oh yes, I understand, it's very clever. How's it working out for you, being clever?' he could be talking about the whole book, he could be talking about Palahniuk.
What a great name Tyler Durden is. Along with the soap logo and the 'first rule of fight club is…', Tyler Durden has got into the public consciousness. This is a film with influence.
Both Bonham Carter and Pitt seem slightly miscast, but being the pros that they are, they make the best of it. Many people think that E. M. Forster's Lucy from A Room with a View, Bonham Carter's breakout role, was a boy with a girl's name. And I've got to say that I've never been convinced by Palahniuk's women characters either. Marla is more of an idea than a human being, I think. But in a film where you're never quite sure what is real, it doesn't matter that much.
The least convincing parts of both the novel and the film are when the swarms of working class recruits form a kind of fascist army. Just because Palahniuk did a few crap jobs and gobbed in some soup doesn't mean he can speak for or understand the poor bastards who do that for their whole lives.
There's a real bravura running through the film. It's bold, flashy and fun. David Fincher did his job well and made the film the book deserved.
Personal Score: 6/10
This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.