Director: David Jacobson
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Kayaru, Matt Newton, Dion Brasco, Kate Williamson
MPAA Rating: (for aberrant violence, sexuality, language and some drug use)
Running Time: 1:41
Release Date: 6/21/02 (limited); 7/12/02 (expanded)
Review by Mark Dujsik
Dahmer does what should seem impossible: it makes serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer boring. I knew as much about Dahmer before watching the movie as I did afterward. In fact, the more you know about Dahmerís crimes, the more youíll get from the movie, which offers very little in the way of exploration or presentation of his crimes but does manage to allude to a few of the more gruesome details occasionally. Donít get me wrong, I wasnít expecting or hoping for a detailed account of all the heinous things Dahmer didóthat would be exploitative and highly inappropriate. So for avoiding this route, the movie does take the high road on one level, however, thereís nothing much beyond the crimes that writer/director David Jacobson can or wants to explore. Jacobson focuses on Dahmerís life of crime but tones it down to the point that itís seldom disturbing and offers nothing else to contemplate beyond his crimes. Itís a lose-lose situation, really.
When we first meet Jeffrey Dahmer (Jeremy Renner), he is working in a chocolate factoryóthe last place youíd expect someone like that to work, really. He seems normal enough, functionally doing his job, showing the new guy the ropes, and leaving each day to his own life. After work on this day, he goes shopping but instead of looking for clothes, he appears to be looking at customers. One catches his eye, and he offers to buy the man a pair of shoes. The guy doesnít trust this stranger at first, assuming thereís a catch, and heís right. Heíll buy the shoes if the guy agrees to come back to his apartment and be photographed. The man accepts the strangerís offer but isnít prepared for everything else this chocolate-factory employee has in store for him. The man is drugged, stripped, photographed, exposed to many unspeakable (and, as such, unshowable) things, and finally given an amateur lobotomy with an electric drill. And after all of this, Dahmer goes on with his life, with a corpse and a primitively lobotomized man in his bedroom.
The movie goes from here to multiple flashbacks, going as far back as the series of events that led to his first killing. There are also episodes involving his overbearing father Lionel (Bruce Davison) and his naÔve but caring grandmother (Kate Williamson), but they arenít as influential to the material as youíd expect. In the immediate time of the story is the relationship between Dahmer and Rodney (Artel Kayaru), who would have been Dahmerís last victim if not for his picking up some rather obvious signs. The problem with this structure is that it focuses entirely on Dahmerís crimes and very little on his personal life. Had the movie started earlier, not necessarily with his childhood (that would be a bit obvious) but at some point before he began to display psychotic tendencies, we might have a better understanding of him. Thereís no separation between Dahmer the man and Dahmer the criminal. Without the separation, Jacobson has limited himself from exploring his subjectís complexity. Trying to put responsibility on a single event, person, or circumstance of Dahmerís past would have simplified the script to parody, but Jacobson doesnít offer any possible reasons or explanations for Dahmer.
Instead, everythingówhatever it may beóis internalized. Dahmerís transformation is from a man who kills and dismembers a man in a crime of passion and cries over it after all is said and done into a man who does the same thing only with no emotion. That in itself simplifies the facts to a rather condensed level. Did Dahmer suffer internally for his crimes? His actions suggest no, and as a result, Jacobsonís abridged attempts to put a human face on this monster of a man come off false. Would it have been possible to make Jeffrey Dahmer sympathetic on a certain level? Probably not, but I would rather try and understand him than sympathize for him. Jeremy Renner portrays Dahmer, but he canít be faulted for a lack of understanding his character. In fact, I completely understand where Jacobson and Renner are coming from here, and Renner embodies the nature of the scriptís version of Dahmer. Itís simply that this version doesnít do justice to an intensely complicated subject.
From the outside, Dahmer may seem like an ambitious movie, but it turns out to be nothing more than a low-rent character study with little to no studying of its characters. It cheaply tries to make us connect to Jeffrey Dahmer through empty emotional scenes and the device of putting him in situations in which heís close to being caught, implicating us for wanting him to escape, I guess. I never wanted him to escape, but I did want the movie to escape from the chains of its simplicity.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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