Directed by David Jacobson
Starring Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Kayaru
This movie came out in 2002 to underwhelming response, but that’s due to the subject matter, not the filmmaking. Jeff Dahmer (Renner) was a infamous Wisconsin mass murderers and he’s not very sympathetic here or in real life. We meet him at his job making candy bars. Little known fact: Milwaukee was a major chocolate confection producer, right behind beer and heavy equipment. After getting off work, Jeff picks up a young Asian man (Dionysio Basco) in a clothing store, takes him home, slips him a Mickey, and then get out a drill bit and gives the guy an extra 3/16th inch hole in his head. Jeff’s parents sense something may be wrong and dad (Bruce Davidson) nearly discovers the spare head Jeff keeps in an old toy box. Later Jeff drifts off to Milwaukee’s very closeted gay bar scene where he drugs and decapitates enough people to attract the police department’s notice. Flashbacks and current scenes intertwine, and all we have to distinguish them is a very 1970 pair of aviator glasses and a car with sloppy suspension. Thankfully Jeff gets busted, and to this day there seems to be some confusion over the number of victims. Jeff was murdered in jail, to no one’s sadness or surprise.
This is not an easy film to watch, although director Jacobson tend to cushion the hardest blows. Renner is smarmy and creepy and makes your skin crawl by just acting nice. We follow him and potential victim Rodney (Artel Great) to his apartment. They met in a knife shop and go home for a night of intimate discussions, arguments about sex, and the sense that bad things are about to go down. What we lack is any exploration of Dahmer’s inner state of mind as he never explains why he murders, implying it’s just a thrill ride for him. He’s clearly gay and closeted and uncomfortable with that state of affairs. But that falls far short of a reason to kill even if 1970s Milwaukee was not “Gay Friendly.” Ultimately this Dahmer has no excuse or motivation for his actions, he’s just pure evil covered with enough of a candy coated wrapper to run his deadly scam for a few years. This film at best offers a prurient view of a distorted mind and its results but avoids (or can’t identify) a truly compelling motivation for Dahmer beyond “Killing gets me off”. Jeff never says those lines, but Mr. Renner certainly delivers them in subtext.