Friday, December 12, 2008

Independent biopics

At midnight tonight, with a repeat at 3:00 AM, the IFC is showing a movie that Irving Thalberg would never have made at MGM: Dahmer. Jeremy Renner stars as Jeffrey Dahmer, the man notorious for having killed a bunch of young men, cutting up and cannibalizing their dead bodies. Becuase the subject material is fairly well-known to most Americans, making a good movie about the subject isn't exactly easy. Dahmer succeeds in some ways, and fails in others.

Renner is quite good playing the title role. The movie isn't exactly a straight-up biopic, of the sort that the major studios would have made decades ago; instead it tries to be more of a psychological portrait. If you're looking for a lurid movie, this isn't really it. There's certainly some violence, but it's not very graphic -- and there's no cannibalism. Instead, we learn that Dahmer was a misfit partly because of the aloof relationship he had with his parents, and more because he was a homosexual and apparently didn't feel he could be open about it. We also learn that his first killing was not quite intentional.

However, the movie has some problems as well, notably that it's not told in the linear style that we would have seen in the studio system. Instead, it bounces back and forth between the time just before he was finally arrested, his days in high school, and points in between, never being quite clear about when each event was taking place. This isn't that big a drawback -- if you already have a good knowledge of who Jeffrey Dahmer was. The first time I saw the movie, I found myself thinking what Americans would think if a similarly structured movie were made called Homolka. No, it wouldn't be about Oskar Homolka, but about Karla Homolka. Don't know who she is? That explains the problem that Dahmer the movie has. (I didn't realize at the time that a movie had in fact been made about her. I haven't seen it, but the reviews claim it's a more straightforward retelling of the events than Dahmer.)

When I first saw Dahmer on IFC, it was part of a double feature with a movie about the other famous Wisconsin serial killer, Ed Gein. Only Dahmer is on tonight, but both movies are available on DVD.

Dahmer is also schedule to re-air on IFC on Christmas night. Somebody has a warped sense of humor to consider it the perfect Christmas viewing.

No comments: