Director: Tony Scott
Writer: Phoef Sutton (script) Peter Abrahams (novel)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, Benicio Del Toro
Duration: 116 mins
BBFC Certification: 15
Some films remain with you for a lifetime, even if you have never actually seen them. For me, The Fan is a perfect example of this. I remember seeing the trailer for it on an old VHS tape at some point in the late Nineties and something about the story, the concept, grabbed hold of my attention and never really let go. For one reason or another, I never actually got round to watching the damn thing over the next twenty to twenty five years (perhaps I kept missing it on TV or maybe they had run out of copies in Blockbuster every time I went) but the fact remained, whenever I was reminded about The Fan, the same thought went through my head, something along the lines of, ‘I really need to get around to watching that…from the trailer it seemed quite good!’ Well, when the opportunity arose to review the new Blu Ray edition from the resurgent Signal One label, I leapt at the opportunity. Finally I would get round to watching the film whose trailer has haunted me for almost a quarter of a century.
Yet, on paper at least, there seems more to recommend The Fan than some bizarre association forged over decades. For a start, it is directed by the late, great Tony Scott, who only started to emerge critically out of his brother Ridley’s shadow after his untimely and tragic death in 2012. Secondly, it stars Robert DeNiro smack bang in the middle of his Hollywood Blockbuster phase, with The Fan accompanying films such as Heat , Backdraft and Cape Fear. Lastly, the plot seems to be the perfect kind of Hollywood ‘switch your brain off’ thriller that seems almost custom designed for Friday nights and popcorn.
The Fan tells the tale of Gil Reynard (Robert De Niro) a divorced, down on his luck salesman whose only passion in life is Baseball (and singing along badly to The Rolling Stones). In fact, passion may be the wrong word to describe his interest in Baseball. Gil, it quickly becomes clear, is absolutely obsessed with the sport, to the point where his job and his fragile relationship with his son begin to suffer in the wake of his neurosis. At the start of the new Baseball season, that neurosis and obsession seems to be focused on one player in particular, Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes) a new star signing to the San Francisco Giants. Yet when Bobby’s new season begins to falter, Gil takes it upon himself to help, with dangerous and horrific consequences…
The Fan feels very much a part of the ‘stalker’ or ‘obsession’ films that found such success in the Nineties, coming across very much like a stablemate to such fare as The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Unlawful Entry, Single White Female. Yet unlike most of those movies, The Fan stumbles when it should be breaking into a sprint.
The first half of the film actually works rather well. The connection between Gil and Bobby is carefully handled, with a lot of time devoted to character building and set-up. De Niro is on familiar ground here, as he charts Gil’s slowly crumbling life, channeling both the affable menace of Rupert Pushkin and the mental instability of Travis Bickel into a newly successful whole. The first half of the film also bears more than a passing resemblance in tone to Joel Schumacher’s classic Falling Down, released a few years earlier, which saw Michael Douglas give the performance of his career as the tragic D- Fens.
Scott himself works well with the material. He always manages to ensure that De Niro remains menacing while staying just on the right side of sympathetic, while he also squeezes the maximum amount of tension and stress out of an early scene set at a huge Baseball match. Even the journey of Wesley Snipes’s character, while far less interesting than what is going on with De Niro, is handled effectively, with Snipes proving yet again just how underrated he is as an actor.
Yet just when the plot kicks into a higher gear, things unfortunately begin to fall apart. The main fault here lies with De Niro’s character. The film, after spending a good hour charting his mental journey, is suddenly happy to turn him into a full tilt psychopath, where, as the film goes on, Gil seems to lurch from one form of mental instability to another, seemingly on a whim. Any sympathy or understanding is cast by the wayside and nuance is thrown out of the window as The Fan lurches hook, line and sinker into a stupendous looking but cheap feeling thriller. It is a real shame, as there was enough meat on the bones here to produce something deeper and more meaningful about celebrity culture and living your life through the success of others – themes that are even more pertinent today than when the film was released. Yet, as the plot becomes more preposterous (hoovering up a decent amount of ludicrous plot holes along the way) culminating in an ending that aims for thrills and tragedy but just feels overblown, it becomes clear that The Fan was never going to end up being a high point in either Scott’s, De Niro’s or Snipes’ filmography.
It certainly isn’t an outright failure. Scott utilises his trademark cinematic technique, proving that no matter the quality of the script, it was impossible for him to ever make a boring film that didn’t at least pop and scream with visual style. There are some decent supporting turns from John Leguizamo and Benicio Del Toro, while De Niro himself offers us another masterclass of affable, unnerving intensity. Despite its flaws, this minor Tony Scott film is still a moderately entertaining Nineties thriller. It is just a shame, as it feels that there is a better and far more tragic story lurking around here, with interesting things to say about superstars and their fans, that is just never successfully articulated.
Was it worth the almost two decade wait for me to finally get around to watching it? Well, it would be hard for any film to possibly live up to that kind of extended wait, but the The Fan was never going to surprise or delight, even if I saw it on its opening weekend. I’m sorry to say, but after all this time, I won’t be considering myself a Fan (sorry, couldn’t resist).
The Fan is being released in dual format edition by Signal One Films. The picture quality on the Blu Ray looks serviceable but appears to have been struck from a rather dated master. The DTS 5.1 soundtrack, however, is deep and rich. Unfortunately there are no extras on the disc at all apart from a single stills gallery, filled with dull promo stills you’ll never look at more than once. Disappointing.