3 April 2001 | jhclues
"Baseball Is Better Than Life, Because It's Fair..."
It may be true that everyone during their lifetime has fifteen minutes of fame, even if in most cases it only lasts about a minute and a half. And if that minute and a half comes early in life, how far into adulthood can you carry it with you, and when does a healthy memory become an obsession that finally blurs the line between reality and fantasy? `The Fan,' directed by Tony Scott and starring Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes, is an intense and disturbing motion picture that examines that moment and the effects it can have on the lives of those either directly or indirectly involved. Here, the focus is on one Gil Renard (De Niro), a knife salesman in San Francisco and a die-hard Giants fan who is pumped about the acquisition during the off-season of superstar centerfielder Bobby Rayburn (Snipes), whom he believes will bring a pennant to the team. Once a player himself-- a pitcher-- Renard's life has since been on a downhill slide. Divorced, he has a young, little league aged son, Richie (Andrew J. Ferchland), with whom he has an unsettling relationship, and at work, his sales have been so poor his job is on the line. An angry, disturbed individual, Renard has reached a pivotal point in his life; for inspiration, he continually returns to the philosophies of the catcher from his playing days, Coop (Charles Hallahan), whom he considers one of the finest athletes he ever knew. And as his life continues to deteriorate, his obsessions begin to add further to the imbalance of his perceptions of reality, which finally lead him past a point of no return.
Scott's film, of course, has less to do with baseball than it does with how the game itself actually relates to life and the things that really matter. As Rayburn says at one point, `We're not curing cancer here.' But to those to whom life has been reduced to that minute and a half to which they still cling, the game can be everything. And it is just that unhealthy obsession that Scott examines in this film, that comparatively insignificant moment that in the obsessive mind becomes an episode of monumental importance that finally distorts any semblance of reality the individual may have left. What's truly frightening is that upon close scrutiny, in Renard there is much with which many viewers will be able to relate in one way or another: The anger, the frustration and perhaps the inability to let go of that minute and a half, even when it threatens to become more than just a pleasant memory, but an unhealthy lifeline to another place and another time that, in reality, may never have existed in the first place. It's like a search for self-esteem by the has-been-who-never-was, who can neither realize nor accept it's elusiveness. As Renard says to Richie, `Baseball is better than life, because it's fair. You hit a sacrifice fly and it doesn't count against your average.' An ideal that has forever eluded Renard; in his life, he's never been able to `give himself up for the team' and get anything in return for it.
As Renard, De Niro gives an explosive performance that at first glance may seem to have a bit of Travis Bickle and Max Cady in it-- which in fact it does-- though upon closer inspection, Renard is a unique character. Those with a disturbed mind may have traits in common, as these characters De Niro has portrayed certainly do; but De Niro has successfully given each of them an individual personality, and when viewed side by side, the differences are readily apparent. Bickle may be a sociopath, Cady a cold blooded killer; but Renard is a man who was just never able to get a handle on his life and has allowed his obsessions to dictate the choices he has made along the way. De Niro is simply a master of his craft, with the ability to make his characters so real that a performance like this one is often overlooked; this is Oscar worthy work for which he never received the acclaim he was due. His Renard is so like someone you would run into in your everyday life that in retrospect, it's scary. But it's the kind of performance we've come to expect from De Niro, and as usual, he does not disappoint.
Wesley Snipes, as well, gives a solid performance as Rayburn that is one of his best ever, which is not surprising when you consider with whom he was working. If you study De Niro's films, you may discover a common thread running through them with regard to his co-stars. De Niro has the ability to make those with whom he is working better; and it's something that stays with them forever after. Consider Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep before `The Deer Hunter,' or Ed Harris before `Jacknife.' Certainly they were exceptional talents before, but they have arguably been better since. And Snipes is no exception. Nor is Benicio Del Toro (Recipient of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for `Traffic'), who gives a memorable turn here as Rayburn's rival outfielder, Juan Primo.
The supporting cast includes Patti D'Arbanville (Ellen),Ellen Barkin (Jewel), John Leguizamo (Manny), Chris Mulkey (Tim), Dan Butler (Garrity) and Brandon Hammond (Sean). A thought provoking thriller that gives some real insight into the cause and effect of the psyche of human nature, `The Fan' is like an open wound that may hit too close to home for some. And to dismiss this as just a `baseball' movie or another `action' flick would be a mistake, for there is much more here than meets the eye. In the end, those who pay attention will ultimately reap the rewards it proffers. I rate this one 9/10.