Friday, August 10, 2012

Lionsgate's "Raising Jeffrey Dahmer" portrays a father's burden

Lionsgate used to release mostly small films, and then got into horror (the “Saw” franchise), became a public company, acquired other distributors (such as smiliar competitor Summit Entertainment), and became a producer and distributor of “B movie” comedies and action films for the mainstream market.  It also developed one of the best musical trademark logos in the business, despite using it against its bizarre “saw” machinery (which opens up onto a scene of the “true” Lions Gate in Greece).

Lionsgate uses its stirring musical opening for the disturbia, “Raising Jeffrey Dahmer”, directed by Rich Ambler, from 2006, rather than its grind for horror films (against the same machinery).  That’s appropriate, because Ambler’s drama focuses almost entirely on Jeffrey’s father Lionel (Scott Cordes): his being informed (starting with a “phone home” sequence and reaching police) of his son’s crimes, and his having to fend of popular and media rumors about his having abused his son – all of them false. 

The film opens in court, where Jeffrey (Rusty Sneary) recounts his first homicide, when home alone in Ohio, at age 18.  This one incident is dramatized quickly, and the young male victim, played by Frankie Krainz, is depicted as unusually attractive.

The film uses fuzzy focus and sometimes black and white for the flashbacks into Jeffrey’s boyhood, showing his gratuitous behavior, killing animals.  As a young adult, Jeffrey (who always speaks in a monotone) is constantly fending off his father's concern out of "privacy" and at one point says he wants to have a lab, just as his father (who is shown as a laboratory scientist) does for work.   There seems to be no real explanation for Jeffrey's path other than genetics.  There are some childhood development experts who do claim that upbringing means less than a lot of people think, and that inheritance and organic factors mean a lot more.  Certainly, the justice system is having to deal with these questions given the occasional violent outbreaks leading to tragedy, especially two recently during the summer of 2012.

In the end, the film doesn’t tell us a lot about why this happened.  It does show us how a father has to deal with his own level of responsibility, and decide just what he can do for himself and the others who remain in his life.

The film (available from Netflix) can be watched on YouTube free legally, but requires login and age verification.

There is an review of the earlier film “Dahmer” here on July 8, 2012. 

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