Director: David Fincher.
I know, I know, I’m breaking the very first two rules of Fight Club, and yes I’m very familiar with all the rules but I’m not going to do a Rosie O’Donnell; and for those of you that don’t know what that is, she did the ‘unforgivable’, quoted by Pitt, by spoiling the entire film on her show just before it’s general release, actually urging people not to go see it. Firstly, I’m not going to ruin it like she did, and secondly I’m urging you to watch it if you haven’t done so already.
Initially, I wasn’t keen on the film, thinking it to be vain, narcissistic and ambiguous, giving it a generous 8/10, because it is undeniably, superbly crafted. But after watching it again later in life; reluctantly if I remember rightly and was only because certain people around were raving about it and they couldn’t understand my okayish acceptance of it when in reality it was my understanding of the film that was skewed. Maybe watching it the first time round planted a seed, but it uses themes I was already aware of, and I was already harbouring a contempt for consumerism. But the more I watch it the more I love it, appreciate it’s brilliance and ingenuity and strangely find it dangerously inspiring. Ironically, I own the Blu-ray special edition yet I’m still unable to part with my limited edition DVD.
Producer Raymond Bongiovanni read the book and endured trying to get it made into a film, sadly dying before the project got green-lit. But he got the ball rolling and though Fox production president Laura Ziskin admired the novel, she didn’t think it would work as a movie but handed it to one of the studio readers for feedback, who excessively slated it, claiming it was “exceeding disturbing” and thus, not fit for audiences. But, Ziskin went with a temporary project putting the feelers out for producers who might be interested, with a few declining until Joshua Donen and Ross Grayson Bell of Atman Entertainment loved the idea. The more reasons people put up to say why this film couldn’t, shouldn’t be made gave them more and more reason to want to see it made.
The producers original approached directors like Peter Jackson who was busy priming his Lord of The Rings trilogy; Bryan Singer who didn’t bother reading the source material and didn’t even respond; then Danny Boyle who was busy with The Beach to then finally David Fincher, who, whilst loving the novel was reluctant to work for Fox after his experience with Alien3; but after a meeting with studio heads and producers, faith was restored and Fincher signed on to direct. Gladly so.
David Fincher was making quite a scene back in the 90’s with Se7en still being one of my all time favourite thrillers, and I struggle to pick only one between Se7en and Fight Club, not to mention his other films like The Social Network and The Game. But this was his fourth outing as director, though it appears he had a firm grip over the entire production of the film opposing producer decisions later down the line as you’ll read later on.
It’s based of the titular 1996 novel written by Chuck Palahniuk who got inspired to write the book after having a punch up whilst on a camping trip; implementing the Tom Spanbauer’s technique of dangerous writing, bringing a brutal and minimalistic personal honesty to the story. I’m unable to draw comparisons between book and film, but it appears to be one of those rare occasions where the film is possibly better than the book, Palahniuk himself commenting that the film is an improvement on his novel; and viewers will definitely benefit more from the film having not read the source material.
Now the challenging part here is to try and explain the story without giving it the wrong impression, much like the original studio trailers did, marketing the film as something it’s not; which possibly resulted in it’s poor box office figures. But, in a round about nutshell, we follow an insomniac office worker (Norton) who teams up with a carefree, flamboyant and daring soap salesman (Pitt) as they start an underground fight club phenomenon that far exceeds anyone’s expectations.
Norton has always had a habit of playing unlikeable characters and it’s something he does so incredibly well; to a level that it makes me dislike him as a person and would be put off meeting him in real life; or I wonder how I would react if I bumped into him in the street. He is probably a decent enough guy in real life but his roles have that impact on me, kudos to his performances. And out of all of his asshole roles he’s played, 25th Hour, Rounders, The Score; this is by far his greatest role; even above his own Oscar nominated roles for Primal Fear, American History X and Birdman. Matt Damon or Sean Penn was put forward originally by producers but Fincher insisted on Norton after seeing his performance in The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Norton plays the everyday, workaholic, Ikea addict, living the consumer’s mundane, insignificant dream in utter subjugation to what can only be liken to modern slavery; until he meets Tyler Durden during a spate of insomnia and things really start to get interesting.
Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden is amazing to watch, and it’s hard to deny that the uncouth, unstable rebel is actually quite the inspiration. He’s the opposite of Norton character, being incredibly brazen, buoyant and liberating and there’s an instantaneous admiration for him, wanting to be that guy. Grayson Bell original wanted Russell Crowe to play Tyler Durden but was gladly overruled by a returning producer, Art Linson, who was one of the initial producers to actually turn down the film, saying Pitt was the better choice. But Pitt wasn’t initially interested in the role and it wasn’t until Fincher convinced him to read to screenplay over a couple beers whilst he was filming Meet Joe Black. Pitt, was perfect for the role, with even Grayson Bell admitting he was gladly overruled. He gave the anarchist Tyler Durden a raw, magnetic energy that I don’t think anyone else could have done.
And then there’s Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla, aptly named after a girl who use to bully Palahniuk’s sister at school. An estranged, destitute grifter who seeks the same cathartic therapy as Norton’s character but is possibly more in tune with Tyler’s sadistic attitude. She shares a confusing relationship between the two and though I have wondered if her part is wholly necessary, she does provide a lot of substance and in a round about way, evidence further down the story.
The script and narrative style is ultra sharp, innovative and ingenious with it’s clever little quips which sometimes covertly snipes at the very thing its addressing, breaking the forth wall at times which may or may not be noticed even on the second of third viewing. It’s highly controversial with certain key elements possibly upsetting and pushed the limits of some of the producers, namely Laura Ziskin, who demanded changes that would later infuriate her more. I actually take great joy in reading that Rupert Murdoch was totally opposed to the film as it addresses very much the ideal he actually represents.
The film itself, as a whole is satirical and is an embodiment of resentment for a false promised lifestyle that’s marketed by commercial advertising, with this firmly sticking a finger to the corporate world and consumerism; though ironically according to Fincher himself, has the presence of Starbucks coffee cups seen throughout the film. It’s violent, brutal and not only just physically; it’s profound, provocative, sublime and strangely empowering; and still feels incredible relevant to today’s political climate, if not more so today with generation X, that this story is so based upon, has now garnered a few years under their belts making way for the millennials, whom are still being sold the same ol’ commercial dream of materialism and brand ownership being the be and end all to the path to spiritual happiness.
A huge amount of credit has to go to both director of photography Jeff Cronenweth who did the incredible cinematography and Jim Uhls who adapted the script (his first one too, at that, though he describes the film as a romantic comedy mostly central around relationships. I think I get it. The production, set pieces and locations is all very much comic book fashion and the attention to every gritty detail is beautifully; even though filthy designed and placed. The makeup and costume design is also, perfectly fitting with Tyler’s raucous outfits and blue blockers, Marla’s carelessly, slapped on makeup, Meat Loaf’s heavy set moobs and the blood and injury detail during the fight clubs; all of it amalgamated to stunning effect. It’s really only the soundtrack and The Dust Brothers’ score that isn’t as outstanding, not that this is a criticism; it’s got a good soundtrack; it’s just not a soundtrack/score you hear, maybe recite or mention when talking about films of both this genre or era.
And finally the technical brilliance with how the picture was filmed and processed to give it it’s final, purposefully grubby and grainy appearance; like using spherical lenses over the more conventional anamorphic ones, stretching the contrast, underexposing and re-slivering. There’s also an amount of unnoticeable CGI, besides the reverse-tracking opening, but much of the sabotage is impressively touched up.
It might be surprising to some that Fight Club didn’t perform as well as expected at the box office, missing it’s targets; maybe some of it owing to Rosie O’Donnell but probably more likely because of the poor, misleading promotional campaign where the studios had little to no idea on how to market such a film. Maybe they would have got a better response if they marketed it as Jim Uhls’ romantic comedy; that’s a trailer I would love to see! But the film made its success with its DVD/VHS release earning a massive cult following; gladly not to the level the story suggests. It increased the novel, and Palahniuk’s exposure, with him writing a sequel in comic book form which was published back in 2015. It was ranked #4 in Total Film’s 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time in Nov 2005 and in 2008, Empire magazine put it at #10 in its issue of The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time, with the famous line "The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club" being ranked at #27 in “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
Overall, it’s an outstanding and brilliantly crafted film that certainly belongs in the top of many people’s “all time greatest” lists.
Running Time: 10
The Cast: 10
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for being precisely what it is, an outstanding piece of gritty, provocative cinematic genius. Part of me wants to be just like part of Tyler Durden.