Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Movie review: Dahmer

What with the recent success of The Hurt Locker, and Jeremy Renner’s purported Oscar-worthy performance in that film, IFC has been running the 2002 indie flick, Dahmer, thinking people might want to see what else ol’ Jeremy has done. For me, he’ll truly always be “Penn” (from his guest-star on S1E11 of Angel) although I did enjoy him quite a bit in 28 Weeks Later.

Dahmer is a biopic of the infamous and twisted Jeffrey Dahmer who, you might remember, was arrested in 1992 for the murder and mutilation (and awful etc.) of fifteen young men and boys. The movie itself covers only a couple of days of Dahmer’s life, right before he was finally arrested, but flashes back further and further through his life: from the gay bars where he would pick up, drug and have sex with other men; to the frustrations of living with his grandmother; to his realization in high school that he was gay; to his distress at his parents’ divorce, which revealed itself in alcoholism and increasing estrangement.

The movie paints a fairly sympathetic picture of young Dahmer (who was only 34 when he was beaten to death in prison during his second year of a 900+ year incarceration), hinting that his violence, sadism and perversion arose out of being a frustrated, sad, lonely, deeply-closeted gay man. [Note: there was apparently quite a bit of outrage at how sympathetic the movie was to this serial killer and it was not out in theaters long.] Jeremy Renner is fantastic in this role, despite being far too good looking. He gives a very good, committed performance, the confusion and violence flickering behind his eyes even when he’s at his most charming.

While quite graphic – one could scarcely make a movie about a serial killer who kept body parts in his refrigerator without being a little gory - Dahmer is neither a slasher nor a sex flick. Sexual liaisons are on-screen but show no naked body parts below the waist; there is one dismemberment that takes place just off-screen (the camera pulls back only for the clean-up) and one other “exploratory surgery” scene that was no more graphic than similar scenes from a CSI or Angel episode, even.

Dahmer isn’t a fabulous movie by any means. As a biopic, there’s no plot per se, and the filmmakers definitely tread lightly on the makings of such a monster. I can see why the victims’ families were upset by the soft-shoe portrayal, and I would think that the gay community might have taken offense as well at the insinuations. That being said, it was very interesting as a character exercise and, as I mentioned, Renner is most excellent. I hope that the recent accolades bring him more good roles because he obviously is able to handle a wide range of them.

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