An all star baseball player becomes the unhealthy focus of a down on his luck salesman.
Robert De Niro has, over the years, got the psycho act down to a series of chillingly controlled performances: think Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, Al Capone in The Untouchables or Max Cady in Cape Fear. With The Fan, he delivers yet another obsessively honed and frighteningly realised nutcase: Gil Renard.
Renard is a West Coast door-to-door knife salesman whose sales routine involves shaving his arm and leg hairs to verify the sharpness of his blades. De Niro makes him a pressure cooker of pent-up emotion: frustrated, downbeaten, he is a man foundering in a world that no longers walks to his tune, by turns pathetic and scary, venting his anger in a barrage of expletive driven-remarks.
Divorced, alienated from his son, facing the sack from the firm his father started, Renard’s only pleasure in life is baseball — more specifically his team, the San Francisco Giants, whose latest signing is hot-shot slugger Bobby Rayburn (Snipes), a $40 million acquisition with a killer swing and a money-grabbing agent (Leguizamo).
Having already lost his favourite shirt number to rival Giant Benicio
Del Toro, Rayburn then loses his lucky charm in the outfield on opening day, and his home run cannon stops firing. But while most Giants supporters in the stands turn against their erstwhile hero, Renard remains loyal, going so far as to kill Del Toro in order to get Rayburn his number back.
While there is fun to be had in waiting for Renard finally to blow his fuse and use one of those knives he’s so proud of, the film tries so hard to comment on the notion of celebrity that it all but forsakes the simple, old-fashioned pleasures of the thriller genre. Namely thrills. The scene in which Renard puts on one of Rayburn’s uniforms while his own clothes are drying is truly chilling but generally Scott compensates by filling every frame with his pumped-up, visual razzamatazz. The opening sequence with De Niro and Snipes in separate cars talking to each other via Ellen Barkin’s radio phone-in show as they plough through San Francisco’s famously undulating streets is a blistering example of cross-cutting. But the rapid-fire editing and glossy cinematography cannot disguise The Fan’s ultimate lack of excitement.
When Renard finally explodes in a Fatal Attraction-style moment, launching his attack on the man he had previously supported and idolised, the effect it has on the film is almost to unbalance it, and the finalé in which Renard and Rayburn face off on the pitcher’s mound during a downpour at the Giants’ stadium, is a washout in more ways than one. File under: majorly disappointing.
The rapid-fire editing and glossy photography can't disguise The Fan's hollowness or De Niro's phoned in performance. A disappointment.