FROM THE OPENING credits, we see that director David Fincher (Seven, The Game) gives himself permission to move the camera anywhere he wants to, as quickly as he wants to. Mostly, he shows whatever his narrator (Edward Norton) is talking about, from the bomb in the basement of the building he's standing in (with Brad Pitt's gun in his mouth) to the extended flashback that is the bulk of the film.

Based on the novel by Portland's Chuck Palahniuk (the bastard child of Kurt Vonnegut and J.G. Ballard), this is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of a book most people would consider unfilmable. And it's damn good.

After Seven, Fincher became popular as a director of dark and depressing films, and with Fight Club, he's made his best film yet. He has taken a bleak story, written in the first person with a detached sense of humor, and has matched its tone perfectly. Like American Beauty, but better, it's a comedy about the power that can be derived from not caring what people think of you, or what you think of yourself. To put it another way, take the energetically bleak heroin-comedy Trainspotting, filter it through the surreality of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and you start to see what you're up against.

In flashback, Norton's character recalls the events that brought him to the film's point of departure -- primarily the two people who recently turned his life upside down: Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a fucked-up support group attendee with whom he's fallen in love, and Pitt's Tyler Durden, a soap manufacturer with whom he creates Fight Club.

Started as a way for two guys who've never been in a fight to experience one, Fight Club catches on with the overeducated and underpaid service culture. It's not about winning, it's about experiencing life in the face of death -- until it becomes about training an anonymous army to sabotage and overthrow "the American way of life." Sure, it goes way over the top, but that's why the story is fun.

As for the cast, Edward Norton is great, as always, and Helena Bonham Carter is perfectly cast; Brad Pitt has found his best role yet -- all wisecracks and cocky charm. The movie may be two and a half hours long, but it flies by. If you even remotely liked it, you'll want to see it again.

As Hard As You Can

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