Dahmer (2002)

reviewed by
Karina Montgomery

Rental with Snacks

What do we know about Jeffrey Dahmer? He was convicted in 1992 at the age of 32 for luring 15 boys to their seduction, death, and vivisection, with some accounts implying cannibalism. Naturally, the leading question on most people's minds is "why?" How did he become this way, and how could he have preyed on 15 people (that we know of) without being caught, what with his, shall we say, unwillingness to part with the evidence? This film is not a documentary, despite IMDb's assessment.

Sadly Dahmer the film will answer none of these questions, and in fact, leaves more questions to be left unanswered. Perhaps such a bogeyman is better left a mystery. The movie dwells on two alternating time lines, early in his "career" and when he was a teenager, already caught in some inner whirlwind of destruction. Chillingly, in this relatively limited story arc of this man's tale, he was in a position to get caught repeatedly, twice by police, and manages to slip away through no action of his own. The film ends with him on the loose.

Jeremy Renner gets the difficult job of portraying Jeffrey Dahmer, and the work he did in this role is why you should see this film. He must tread the line between exposing the human side of a man who did monstrous things and showing the monster lurking behind a vulnerable youth. Renner's face is chillingly unemotive, yet he communicates a great deal in his performance. He gives Dahmer credit for beginning as a regular kid, and gives him credit for digging through the apparent options for fulfillment and going through the process. He doesn't make Dahmer seem lost or confused, methodical or crazed; his actions play, movement by movement, as naturally as a man making a sandwich.

Dahmer grows into his urges and the metamorphosis is subtle but beautifully done. Renner's Dahmer is a withdrawn nerdlinger, a pre-Columbine misfit, channeling Tobey Maguire. Renner has little chronology to work with, but crafts a real sense of development (or would it be entropy?) in the role.

As teen Jeffrey, Renner plays him remorseful, or is he selfish and sad for his own loss? We cannot know, but he is still redeemable on some level. He fidgets, overstates, trips on himself, and is without goal or purpose. Dahmer the man has gained an incredible confidence, the eye of a predator, which can be seen by a potential victim as sexy; yet he is still a social misfit, unable to connect at the most basic level with another person. When he discovers the magic elixir secreted in his mind when he indulges his murderous perversions, he drinks it like champagne at New Years.

Occasionally, adult Jeffrey is halted by a flashback, which is a long cut to the earlier timeline, and these cuts occasionally make it difficult to follow the timeline properly. At one point the timelines seemed to intersect, which was a petty confusion. The morose score turns good and creepy when Dahmer is stimulated to act. It's not a comfortable movie, but Renner's performance makes it worth watching.

-- ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ These reviews (c) 2002 Karina Montgomery. Please feel free to forward but just credit the reviewer in the text. Thanks. reviews@cinerina.com Check out previous reviews at: http://www.cinerina.com http://ofcs.rottentomatoes.com - the Online Film Critics Society http://www.hsbr.net/reviews/karina/ - Hollywood Stock Exchange Brokerage Resource http://www.mediamotions.com and http://www.capitol-city.com

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X-RT-RatingText: 2.5/5

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