July 10, 2002




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Wisconsin death trip

CANNIBALISM, NECROPHILIA , dismemberment – the horrors propagated in Jeffrey Dahmer's Milwaukee apartment made worldwide headlines and inspired any number of true-crime books, People magazine investigations, and segments on Hard Copy. More than 10 years after Dahmer's killing spree came to an end, writer-director David Jacobson's Dahmer approaches its main character, whose name has more grisly connotations than any since Hitler or Manson, from a new angle, using a fact-based narrative to cast one of America's most infamous criminals in a sympathetic light. In the title role, Jeremy Renner is a good physical match for Dahmer, but his performance echoes the overall film's biggest problem: monotony. Cleary, Jacobson is aiming to draw attention to the age-old phenomenon of the banality of evil. But for all its good intentions, Dahmer (which consists of flashbacks to a teenage Jeff's first kill and scenes set in 1991, the year of Dahmer's capture) winds up being as dull as Dahmer's assembly-line job in a chocolate factory. Nice-guy serial killers – as seen in fictional films like The Minus Man – may seem like fountains of poignant human drama, but the truth is, they're pretty uninteresting to watch. The sheer publicity that surrounds the cult of Dahmer complicates Jacobson's attempt to put a new face on the monster, which he does by exploring Dahmer's social and sexual uneasiness and downplaying the grisly details of Dahmer's murders. If Jacobson wanted to make the point that a serial killer can be a misunderstood, emotional creature, he might've picked someone who wasn't notorious for keeping a collection of human heads tucked away in his freezer. (Cheryl Eddy)