De Niro Stalks Snipes
I have to admit I am a fan of sports movies, especially ones which revolve around baseball, so when, in 1996, "The Fan" came out starring Hollywood legend Robert de Niro and Wesley Snipes I knew it was a movie I would have to see. Unlike many sports based movies where the story usually follows a predictable underdog done good scenario, "The Fan" uses baseball as purely the vehicle for a reasonably good thriller about a man who loses his grip on reality and allows his obsession with baseball to control his life.
For Gil Renard (Robert de Niro - Casino) life is slowly spiralling out of control, having lost his job as a salesman for hunting equipment and being served a restraining order by his ex-wife so that he can no longer see his young son, the only thing going for him is his love of baseball and in particular that of the Giants and their new signing Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes - Demolition Man). With nothing left to fill his life, his passion for baseball turns into an obsession, controlling his every move and thought, and when Rayburn is persecuted by the public and critics for having a bad season, Renard takes it upon himself to sort things out.
As already mentioned, "The Fan" is not your usual underdog scenario and is in fact a thriller which is based on one man's passion for baseball and his obsession with one of the stars of the sport. The concept of the movie is quite good as with the number of celebrity stalking cases which are in the news every month, "The Fan" really has a sense of realism about it. That is not to say the movie doesn't exaggerate many elements of this scenario but this is done in an attempt to make an entertaining story which will keep you enthralled from start to finish. What I found particularly good was the speed at which the story moves from setting up the story, through to the climax which has quite a surprising twist that completely caught me out the first time I watched it and on a few times since when I had forgotten the ins and outs of the movie.
After the initial set up to the story where we meet the main characters and get a brief outline to their history, "The Fan" moves quickly into the middle segment where we watch Renard struggle to cope as he loses his job and the restraining order stopping him from seeing his child. You can see a man who is really close to the edge as he focuses all his energy on his passion for baseball and in doing so putting the Giants new baseball player, Rayburn, on a pedestal as he idolises him. What follows is Renard's realisation that Rayburn was not the idol that he believed he was and this pushes him over the edge. All of these sections flow so smoothly together that before you know it you have watched the whole film and to be honest you are left wanting more.
As with any thriller, it needs to keep you enthralled and "The Fan" really achieves this by throwing you quite a few curve balls along the way, as you start to think you know what is going to happen and then it sends you off in another direction which although is surprising is totally believable. Even the climax which is how the film should predictably end has a very good twist which will surprise even the most knowledgeable of film fans. If I had one criticism of the story is that it focuses too strongly on just the characters of Renard and Rayburn, where if they had brought in some of the other characters to a higher degree, it would have made it an even better movie.
The main star of "The Fan" is undoubtedly Robert de Niro as Gil Renard, who is absolutely perfect at playing the psychopathic side of the character, with many resemblances to some of his previous characters such as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Max Cady in Cape Fear. Some of the best moments in "The Fan" come from De Niro using his ability to act through just his movements and facial expressions, where you watch a smiling Renard change in a split second as you the seen the anger and disappointment build up through the look in his eyes. I do have one criticism of De Niro's performance and that is occasionally he appears to over act and in some ways spoils what is a very good performance. Opposite De Niro is Wesley Snipes as Bobby Rayburn, who puts in a pretty good performance as a sports star. To be honest, the character of Rayburn is not the most demanding and on the few occasions where Snipes needed to show some emotion, he handled it reasonably well.
In supporting roles you have some reasonably big names with Ellen Barkin taking on the role of a pushy radio show host and John Leguizamo as Rayburn's manager, Manny. Also making performances are Benicio Del Toro as another baseball player who is a rival of Rayburn's. All the supporting cast put in good performances but it would have made the film more enjoyable if some of these characters had bigger parts.
"The Fan" is directed by Tony Scott who with a history of directing both action movies and thrillers, had good credentials for taking the helm on this. What Scott does really well is to keep the baseball action to a minimum, keeping the emphasis of the film on the thriller side of the story. But he lets the film down by not building up the suspense of the movie but slams the plot twists in our face when we least expect them. Although this works very well, it would have been nice if there had been a bit more suspense in the film which would have helped to stop the film being predicable.
Since its release back in 1996, "The Fan" has taken a battering from many Hollywood critics who have panned it for Robert de Niro's over acting. For me, this is not such a huge problem as it is not in every scene and in general the film is highly entertaining and enthralling. The fact that although the film has a baseball theme to it, it rarely dwells upon it, makes it, in my opinion, very good, although I would not have been overly disappointed if there had been more baseball scenes. Yes there maybe some problems with the acting but these in general are very good and the plot to the film is pretty strong with very few flaws. Probably the best part of the film are the numerous twists which really do take you by surprise and in general Scott has done a good job of keeping the film at a very good pace.
What this all boils down to is that some people may be put off by the fact "The Fan" is set in the world of baseball and think that this will be an action movie, but as already mentioned this is a good thriller which only uses the world of baseball as a vehicle for the drama. I would recommend this to anyone enjoys a good thriller, but would warn De Niro fans that it is not one of his greatest performances.
Tags: Baseball Movies