David Fincher's Fight Club is one of the quintessential films of the 90s, no doubt about it. It's one of those films I liked right away, first time I watched it. The thing is, this took place before my taste in films underwent a pole shift. For some reason, I never watched it again since that first time, so I was quite anxious to find out how it had survived all these years. While clearly a product of its times, I must say it held up pretty well. Not the masterpiece I once considered it to be, but well worth a gamble.
It's not quite right to call Fight Club Fincher's breakthrough film, after all he directed Se7en and The Game well before he started work on this one. But more so than these other two films, Fight Club managed to please both commercial and arthouse audiences alike, while also garnering something of a cult following in the process. It achieved the holy trinity of fandom, something very few films manage. While the cult aspect of the film has mostly faded by now, Fight Club imposed a strong cultural influence back when it was first released.
Upon release the anti-establishment facet of the film was taken rather seriously, with rumors of actual fight clubs popping up left and right. It's a little silly looking back at it nowadays, but it was definitely part of the initial buzz and appeal of the film. Parts of it are still relevant today, mostly the bits dealing with the effects of consumerism on personal identity, but I'd hardly call it a worthwhile reason to watch the film. It provides some good fuel for the dark comedy, but that's about all there is to it really.
The film follows an unnamed character on the brink of depression. Unhappy with his life in general, he finds himself burdened with insomnia. Dazed and numb, he inadvertently happens upon a miracle cure. Joining random support groups eleviates his numbness and allows him to feel and experience again. He soon finds out that he's not the only one abusing these support groups for his own benefit though. A mysterious woman keeps crossing his path, an annoyance that resurfaces his insomnia.
Visually there's a lot happening here. Fight Club is a pretty clear exercise in style, with the camera moving about all the time, the editing being tricky and inventive at every opportunity and some smart use of CG helping out wherever possible. Not always in very over-bearing, spectacular ways, but never failing to be effective. It's a little too slick at times though and Fincher doesn't always use the film's somewhat grim color palette to its best effect, but overall it's very pleasant to look at.
The score's a bit trickier. Fincher contracted the Dust Brothers to tend to the music, which was actually pretty forward-thinking back then. They are known for their electronic-inspired scores, somewhat of a rarity (still). The score itself is passable, suiting the film and providing the right drive and vibe, so they at least got that right. The quality of the music itself on the other hand is pretty low. During the 90s the USA was trailing the electronic music scene and it's pretty obvious if you're used to listening to electronic music outside of the realm of film. If you don't focus on the music too much the score is fine, but only within the context of the film.
Fight Club is one of those movies that happened during the haydays of Edward Norton and the film really benefits from it. Norton is absolutely perfect. Sheepish but creepy, sullen and numbed but stil disturbing. Brad Pitt feeds off of him and delivers and equally strong performance. There are some interesting secondary parts, most notably Helena Bonham Carter, Jared Leto and Meat Loaf (yup, you read that right), but ultimately it's Norton and Pitt who are the obvious stand-outs here.
The first half is probably the best, mostly because it doesn't really go anywhere in particular. There are some very strange plot detours, some pretty fun intermezzos and all the while the films keeps you guessing what's going to happen next. It's also the part that makes people think of this film as a comedy, though sporting a somewhat unusual and cynical kind of humor. The second part is about fleshing out the concept behind the film and ironing out the kinks. It's more straight-forward and while still fun and entertaining, it does remove most of the mystery while not giving back anything substantial in return.
Fight Club may have lost some of its initial appeal, but what remains is an incredibly slick, funny and unique film. Fincher opens up his bag of tricks and sprinkles them everywhere, keeping the audience on its toes while dragging them in deeper and deeper. No doubt this is a film that will be held in high regard the coming decennia and will continue to represent the cinema of the 90s. It's one of Fincher's early highlights, sadly things went considerably downhill from there. Definitely worth a shot if for some reason you never got around to watching this one.