Before his arrest and conviction for serial murders, chocolate factory worker Jeffrey Dahmer hunts Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for young attractive males to turn into unconscious (eventually dead) human sex toys, current acts which often prompt memories of earlier killings and of dealings with his suspicious but unaware father.
User Reviews: Based on real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who was active primarily in Wisconsin in the 1980s, this film focuses on a few key episodes in Dahmer’s life.
If you’re at all familiar with the facts about Jeffrey Dahmer–and probably a hefty percentage of people interested in the film are familiar with Dahmer to some extent–it’s difficult to watch this film without strong expectations. The problem is that under those expectations, Dahmer isn’t likely to be the film you want it to be. It might work better if you’re unfamiliar with the background material, but on the other hand, it might be too disjointed to work in that case. You need a familiarity with Dahmer’s life to piece the film together as you watch it.
That’s not to say that the film is a complete failure. In fact, I gave it a 7 out of 10. Jeremy Renner, who plays Dahmer, is fantastic. Bruce Davison, as Dahmer’s father, and Artel Kayaru, as Rodney, also turn in great performances. Writer/director David Jacobson chose to make the film a psychological portrait, rather than a chronological retelling of Dahmer’s misdeeds, and rather than focusing on the lurid details of the crimes. After the first 20 minutes or so, the film becomes non-sequential, and links together a number of events that provide clues (as much of a clue as we can have, at least) into Dahmer’s behavior. We see Dahmer interacting with his family (primarily his grandmother and father) in a peculiar, distanced way. We see him discovering and trying to come to terms with his homosexuality in a twisted way. We see his desire for intimacy. We see actions taken by the police that would be unbelievable if we didn’t know that they actually happened that way, more or less. We see him constantly drinking alcohol through most of these events. This makes up the bulk of the film. In fact, we only see Dahmer kill two humans during the course of the film, and both are relatively not graphic, and relatively quick events.
All of this was intriguing to me, but I wanted the lurid details to be explored more. Dahmer was a man who conducted experiments on his victims, trying to turn some of them into lobotomized, robot-like companions. He kept vats of acid in his apartment to dispose of body parts. He had a severed head in his refrigerator. He cannibalized victims and engaged in necrophilia. To make a film about Dahmer where these things are not explored not only downplays the severity of his crimes, but it also leaves out fairly essential aspects of Dahmer’s character, if this is to be a character study. I found myself regularly checking the running time, wondering how and when Jacobson was going to get to this other material before the film had to end. And for someone unfamiliar with Dahmer, they probably would spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the film keeps jumping from one event to another, frequently going back and forth with the same events.
The bottom line is that while this film is more than worthwhile as a kind of extended footnote, a much better film about Dahmer needs to be made. Let’s just hope that we can get someone as gifted in the role as Renner to be in that film.