Top positive review
One person found this helpful
on October 9, 2002
I was very impressed with this film. Though it fudges some of the facts in order to present a more sympathetic view of famous killer, undermining its credibility as a biography, the film works very well on dramatic terms. From its creepy / cheerful opening sequence (Patsy Cline crooning as chocolate Santas roll off the production line) to its haunting final image, "Dahmer" delivers the dramatic goods while avoiding, for the most part, outright gore.
The film cleverly juxtaposes flashbacks to Dahmer's early life with the meeting of Dahmer and his (intended) last victim. This allows the viewer to contemplate Dahmer's slide into madness, with special attention paid to the contrast between the confusion and pain of his teenage years with the seemingly emotionless monster he became. The grim tone is leavened by flashes of black humor, but not to the detriment of the serious subject matter.
Jeremy Renner, in the title role, was excellent. Renner really caught the flat, affectless delivery of someone who knows he's a monster, and has gone to great lengths (mostly alcoholic) to block out his sense of morality. He got that creepy look in the eyes, the combination of "little boy lost" and "great white shark" we can see in Dahmer's trial photos. Renner was especially good as the teenage Dahmer. Aside from looking startlingly young, he displayed a touching vulnerability and helplessness even as he commits and covers up his first murder.
Bruce Davison as Jeffrey's father Lionel Dahmer was quite good, and came off as concerned, sympathetic, and completely ineffectual. Artel Kayaru as "Rodney" (who takes the place of the real-life Tracy Edwards, who escaped Dahmer and alerted the police) gives an outstanding debut performance. His vibrant persona provides a wonderful contrast to Dahmer's phlegmatic manner.
I did feel that the movie was lacking in several areas. Some of the transitions between past and present were confusing, but once I clicked with the film's rhythm it didn't bother me. Rodney's motivations were obscure - why he would return to the apartment of a man who just tried to strangle him? The denoument was abrupt, relying on a sudden cut to the standard "Jeffrey Dahmer was charged with 16 counts of murder..." title card.
There was a lot glossed over that could have added insight to Dahmer's psyche. For instance, his latchkey kid's fear of abandonment (the incident when he came home to find his mother and brother moved to Ohio could have been proved telling!). Or his fear of castration, brought on by testicle surgery, or his fascination with dissecting animals. Dahmer's army years, an attempt at "normalcy" ending with a discharge for alcoholism, may also have been worth at least a mention.
There were also many, many atrocities that were never referred to. Dahmer's apartment was notorious for its rank odor, but neither of the men Dahmer brings home mentions this. The vats of acid, the heads in the freezer, the painted skulls and drawer full of Polaroids are never seen. His cannibalism is never even alluded to. In fact, the film seemed to be at pains to portray him as less of a ghoul and more of a misunderstood monster.
Aside from the dishonesty of such an approach, as a longtime horror fan, I missed the grisly details. With such a solid dramatic structure and good performances, I felt the filmmakers could have painted with a much redder brush and lost none of their integrity. Unfortunately for us gore-hounds, however, the production team decided to err on the side of good taste. No pun intended. (Well, maybe just a little bit.)
Last but not least, I was very disappointed tbat the DVD contains only the full-screen version of the film. This is especially annoying since the preview is shown letterboxed!
Still and all, this is a powerful film that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in madness, murder and mayhem of the cinematic variety.