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Review: 'Fight Club' a two-fisted knockout

October 15, 1999
Web posted at: 11:52 a.m. EST (1552 GMT)

By Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Raising eyebrows and tempers, "Fight Club" stars Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter. This film, controversial even before it opened and directed by David Fincher, is based on a 1996 book of the same title by Chuck Palahniuk.

Adapted for the screen by Jim Uhls, the off-center, dark tale explores the world of a group of men who deal with their free-floating rage -- and seething contempt for a possession-obsessed society they feel has made them impotent -- by regularly beating each other to a bloody pulp.

Theatrical preview for "Fight Club"
Windows Media 28K 80K

The disenfranchised modern male has been the subject of several Hollywood films. But few have matched the dramatic punch of "Fight Club." This ultraviolent and multilayered film won't be for everyone. But those who see it will have plenty of food for thought for some time to come.

Norton plays the film's narrator, a desperate insomniac in a dead-end job. He's trying to fill his empty life by attending support groups for an unending list of disease victims. The personal pain he finds there gives him a sense of connection and makes him feel alive.

Enter a chain-smoking, disgruntled woman named Marla. She's drowning in mascara and cynicism. Played by Bonham Carter, Marla is also hooked on self-help groups. She and Norton's character compete for faux emotional release. He finds it impossible to cry with another emotional "tourist" in the room.

Brad Pitt plays Tyler Durden, a slick-talking angry male animal who works as a waiter and makes designer bath soap on the side. After seeing this film, you may never again order soup at a restaurant or use boutique soap.

Dubious circumstances throw the two men together. Over time, Norton's character abandons his uptown existence and surrenders -- borrowing a phrase from George Lucas -- to "the dark side." The two form a fight club to vent their hostilities. Eventually, they attract an army of like-minded followers.

Along the way, Singer takes on a strange attraction for both men. The three embark on a terrifying journey that ends in a mind-boggling conclusion.

Obscure object of desire

It's easy to see how this unconventional and dangerous story attracted Pitt, Norton and Bonham Carter. Combine the intelligent, if at times convoluted, dialogue with the sheer audacity of the main premise, and the results are tantalizing actor bait.

So far Norton has chosen his roles with great care and can now add "Fight Club" to his impressive resumé. Pitt has proved he's not afraid of experimentation, and this time it pays off. As for Bonham Carter, she's reportedly thrilled not to be wearing a corset in a period piece. She's also good in this film.

In "Fight Club" Tyler's message is, "The things you own, end up owning you. It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything. Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction might be the answer." Not cheery thoughts, but this isn't a cheery story.

Decking Mr. Goodbar

This gritty and at times witty, movie -- there are flashes of satanic humor -- isn't for the faint of heart. But Fincher has crafted a thought-provoking film. And while it's violent, it's not gratuitously so. In the hands of other directors -- say John Woo or Michael Bay, whose fondness for testosterone-soaked action are widely considered a given -- this movie might have been insufferable.

But Fincher makes his point while walking the thin line between enough and too much. No doubt, others will disagree with that statement.



Fincher worked with Pitt in another dark and disturbing film, "Seven" (1995), and he also brought us that homage to paranoia, "The Game" in 1997, with Michael Douglas. Those films turn out to have been perfect training for his remarkable work here in "Fight Club."

We were taught by Gordon Gekko, a Douglas character in Oliver Stone's 1987 "Wall Street," that "greed is good." Whoever has the most toys at the end wins.

"Fight Club," in a surprise conclusion, makes the opposite point, if in a bloody idiom, about men's frustration and rage at a homogeneous society fueled by consumerism.

"Fight Club" is rated R for sexuality, language and disturbing and graphic depiction of violent anti-social behavior. 139 minutes.

Brad Pitt spars with 'Fight Club' critics
October 14, 1999
Salon: Movie makes 'Fight Club' book a contender
September 7, 1999
Meet Brad Pitt: Actor talks traps, perfection, and honesty
November 12, 1998
Bemuscled Norton takes on a heavy 'History' lesson
October 29, 1998

Official 'Fight Club' site
W.W. Norton Web site
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