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Dahmer (R)
Peninsula Films
Official Site
Director: David Jacobson
Producer: Larry Rattner
Written by: David Jacobson
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Artel Kayaru, Matt Newton, Dion Basco, Bruce Davidson
Rating: out of 5

When youíre watching a movie, itís nice to say, ďMan, I really know what that guy/girl is going through.Ē You get a warm feeling and smile a knowing grin that says, ďHey brother/sister, Iíve been there.Ē However, there are times when identifying with a movie character can be a bit disturbing, to say the least. Especially when said character is Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killer extraordinaire. In the new film, Dahmer, directed by up-and-coming filmmaker David Jacobson, the man, not the myth, of Jeffrey Dahmer is explored. The movie uncovers not a raving psycho or a freak, but merely a tragically lonely man who toyed with, then killed, those like him. Light on gore and heavy on nuance, Dahmer paints what can only be called a still life of a man who really isnít so different from any of us, other than the homicidal streak, of course.

The movie focuses on Dahmerís adulthood, leaving any childhood scars to be inferred and pondered. We first see Dahmer at work in the epitome of a crap job, candy wrapper in a chocolate factory. In many ways, the images of him at work or sitting in a cafeteria by himself are the most frightening things in the movie. They punctuate Dahmerís existence with a silent scream, letting us sink into the airless void that surely surrounded him at all times. Outside of the factory, we see him slink through the Milwaukee nightlife. He prowls the seedy bars where other lonely souls dwell, and believe me, ďprowlĒ is the only word for it. Heís not just looking for love here; heís hunting for prey. And thatís the one thing that makes this movie so much more than a killers-need-love-too exercise in empathy. No matter how much you feel for Dahmer (and yes, you will feel for him), the movie never lets you forget for one second that he was, first and foremost, a serial killer. Walking the finest of lines, the film lets us see both sides of one of Americaís most notorious murderers, the fragile and the brutal. Itís in that that we get what may very well be the most complete portrait of serial killer sinceÖ well, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.

Of course, the movie would be nothing with out a strong actor in the titular role and thank the independent movie gods, they found one in virtual unknown Jeremy Renner. Renner is terrifying, plain and simple. He imbues Dahmer with a multi-layered solemnity, a rainbow of somberness that matches glower for glower every kid in your high school who dressed up like The Cure and wouldnít talk to anyone. Itís that every-loner attitude that makes Rennerís performance, and by extension Dahmer himself, all the more frightening. A facade of normalcy can, in many ways, be scarier than a hockey mask or ghoulish make-up. Jeremy Renner really is a find. I hope this movie gets him much notice because I have a hunch this kid is on the verge of great things. Elsewhere in the movie, Bruce Davidson shows up as Dahmerís clueless-to-a-fault father, giving a well-mannered performance as a man who really wants to understand his son, but is unequipped, emotionally, to do so. Also worth mentioning are the actors who play Dahmerís victims. They all take throwaway roles, what could have been nothing more than living props, and turn them into their own mini-masterpieces. I think that speaks to David Jacobsonís skill as a writer and director, allowing people to make the most of what Iím sure were tiny parts of his script.

Itís interesting that Dahmer should come along now, on the heels of another great work of serial killer biography known as Ed Gein. Both films are low-budget dramas about real, terrible men, and both are quite good in their own ways. However, Dahmer in particular is a movie youíll be thinking about days later. Like any serial killer worth his salt, Dahmer is quiet, keeps to itself, and on the surface appears very docile. But when you go into its metaphorical basement, you see it for what it really is: A shocking revelation that is more real than you could ever possibly want.

óClinton Davis


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