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Dahmer barely registered on marquees across America, but those who saw the film were moved by Jeremy Renner’s outstanding performance. It will surely gain a wider audience now that it’s on DVD. It’s just too bad that the DVD isn’t better produced.

The Man Behind The Name

The DVD doesn't live up to the film, but see it anywayThe subject of Dahmer is, of course, the horrific serial killer famous for eating some of his victims. Rather than exploitative, trashy, and made for TV, Dahmer is an art-house movie that treats its subject with seriousness, curiosity, and sensitivity, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it lets Jeffrey Dahmer off easy. It’s also one of the best films of 2002.

The movie tells the story of the notorious serial killer in two timelines. The first one we see is the older Dahmer. He works in a chocolate factory and picks up gay men after his shift. A date with Rodney (Artel Kayaru, playing a fictional composite) proves to be one of his last. Through Rodney, we get to see the side of the killer that was able to lure victims through social channels.

The other timeline shows a younger Jeffrey trying to convince his father that he’s a normal teenager with typical teenage troubles, even though he has already slipped into murder and madness.

The key to a biography like this is the portrayal of Jeffrey Dahmer, which is outstanding. Up-and-comer Jeremy Renner looks a little like Tobey Maguire. He has that same shy, everyday, boy-next-door quality, mixed with some repressed energy. Renner brings to life both the older, more self-assured Dahmer, and the younger, terrified, self-loathing teenager.

Picture and Sound

The DVD of Dahmer is a bit of a disappointment. The picture is presented full-frame instead of in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It doesn’t look particularly pan-and-scanned, indicating director David Jacobson and cinematographer Chris Manley probably shot for both formats. Still, in this age of widescreen TVs, it’s surprising to see a movie only offered full-frame on a DVD.

The sound is encoded in Dolby Digital, although there is nothing particularly outstanding about the sound. It’s mostly dialogue and doesn’t require a muscular amplifier or surround sound system.

DVD Extras

The DVD presentation includes a theatrical trailer; interviews with the director, producer, editor, and director of photography; and an audio commentary by director Jacobson and actors Renner and Kayaru

The video interviews are full of the usual self-congratulations and mutual admiration. The crew’s own take on the film seemed consistent with my interpretation of it, so there were no surprises.

The audio commentary is not well recorded. When the commentary begins, I can hear a hiss or drone that made me think the commentary was recorded in someone’s kitchen with the refrigerator running.

The three commentators are clearly unprepared for the session. They speak off the cuff and follow their own streams of consciousness. They seem to have a real camaraderie which keeps the commentary from being boring. And Kayaru occasionally acts as an interviewer to get Renner and Jacobson to talk about a scene, which helps keep things lively. But it underscores the fact that this is an ad hoc recording, without planning or script.

Conclusion

Dahmer made it on to my top ten list for 2002. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a big enough cult following to justify a better DVD presentation. Dahmer is a low-budget film, but it’s so well made and well acted that I assumed the DVD would be a gem in the rough as well.

I was wrong, and I am disappointed overall by the DVD presentation, although the film itself makes the disc worth a rental.