The great debate: Fight Club

For: Ellen Newberry praises the pugilistic piece de resistance

On paper, you might be forgiven for expecting Fight Club to be an utter dearth of cinematic genius.

The abstract would read something like the inside of any disillusioned, would-be intellectual teenager’s head: a photoplay anarchist manifesto with edgily sarcastic monologues and good old-fashioned pugilism to echo the angst within… or something.

The dialogue contains such Palahniuk- inspired pearls as “We’re consumers. We’re by-products of a lifestyle obsession” and – wait for it – “The things you own end up owning you”.

And as for the tagline, well… “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” doesn’t exactly scream ‘thoughtful work of art’, does it?

And yet that’s exactly what we have in Fight Club. Darius Khondji’s masterful and consciously squalid cinematography echoes perfectly the script’s seedy tone; the Dust Brothers’ relentless grimy beats add pith and momentum to an already edgy script; and the (often achingly delicate) dereliction of the sets acts as a perfect foil to the palpable brutality.

And that’s before we even get to David Fincher’s trademark punchily precise direction.

Though the film’s transformation from adolescent vitriol into quirky cult gem might begin with the crew, it’s most certainly cemented by the phenomenal performances from the stellar cast.

Brad Pitt was simply born to play the narrator’s smugly slick alter-ego; Helena Bonham Carter is convincingly unhinged as the addled Maria Singer; Ed Norton perfectly diy as the office monkey turned self-destructive cynic.

Of course, it was always going to be something of a fight (pun intended) for the film’s artistic genius to shine through the viscerally repugnant subject matter and occasionally ham-fisted script.

But given that this is ultimately down to Fincher’s refusal to follow the Hollywood tradition of matching style to stoiy, all I really have to say on that front is: “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise”.

Against: For Rebecca Gillie, Fincher’s fighting film is a flop

The first rule of Fight Club is: you don’t talk about Fight Club.

Because it’s crap.

I first watched this film several years ago, knowing only that it featured handsome males punching each other. If only it had stuck to that.

Fight Club begins with such promise – an engaging premise and two charismatic leads in the shape of Edward Norton and Brad Pitt – but by the end you’re rolling your eyes so often that they might as well be on permanent rotation.

Dissatisfied office jock Edward Norton gets drawn into an underground club where guys beat each other up, led by Brad Pitt.

Oh, they need so badly to release their aggression that they’re smacking each other in the kisser? What a poignantly desperate comment on the male’s dilemma in the developed world.

However, the film doesn’t agree, and decides instead that these men are some kind of counter-culture idols.

From the moment the fight club becomes Project Mayhem, an underground army of anti-capitalist rebels (yawn), the film goes down the tubes, segueing into an ideologically lazy fantasy of uprising against the system (snore), briefly elevated by the appearance of Meatloaf.

The film is simply a glorification of male anger, in which petty annoyances and everyday concerns are amplified into perfectly reasonable provocations for a nice manly rampage.

In ever-increasing waves of tedium, the film idolises its band of malcontent pituitary cases and their stale anti-capitalist antics, spouting pretentious soundbites about ‘freedom’ sure to awe legions of grubby adolescents in Che Guevara shirts.

The characters, you see, can interact only through contrived pseudophilosophical Facebook quotations in-the-making.

And the one female in the picture, Helena Bonham Carter, gets lumbered a role whose only function outside of being an unhinged nympho is to add to the inconceivably precious twist ending.

If you’re still awake by then.