The Fan

The Fan
January 29th 2024

Tony Scott’s The Fan (1996) features a memorably disgraceful screen dad in Gil Renard (Robert De Niro), a knife salesman and San Francisco Giants superfan. When he takes his estranged son, Richie (Andrew J. Ferchland), to Candlestick Park for Opening Day, hoping to play heroic dad, the afternoon ends in ignominy and abandonment. Scott crosscuts among the antics—Richie’s wincing expressions, Gil's aria of profanity—with a mounting sense of pressure. This horrible, charmless man, who disregards his son, upbraids strangers, and delivers unwanted sermons about his Little League days, is the lead of a late-summer Hollywood release? How fabulous!

Gil soon invades the life of Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), the Giants’ top-of-the-world, $40 million free-agent signee. The movie is distinguished from other thrillers of the time not only by Scott’s well caffeinated sense of pacing but by the disturbing particulars of De Niro’s performance. The canted-angle montages of Gil hawking his blades to disinterested managers are as cinematographically dazzling as they are dramatically strange, with Gil grazing the knives against his arm and leg hairs to demonstrate their worth. De Niro vividly renders the details of Gil’s regimen: the painful small talk with secretaries, the quick unfurling of his appointment book. It’s as if, before the plot escalates, De Niro is doing all he can to smuggle in a Method-y portrait of the worn-out salesman.

Scott locates commonalities between Gil and Bobby: workplace frustrations, perfectionist tendencies, philosophical outlooks on baseball. (Ellen Barkin appears, too briefly, as a reporter who is always chewing on something.) When Bobby falls into a heavily scrutinized slump, Gil makes it his mission to turn the slugger’s season around. In a demonstration of broadcast-era social media, Gil pierces the barrier dividing star and admirer, conversing regularly with Bobby on sports radio.

As Gil’s grip on reality loosens, Scott supplies disorienting flourishes: a steam-room confrontation set to Nine Inch Nails; grandiose jumbotron projections; a rain-drenched, mid-game rampage redolent of The Last Boy Scout (1991). Meanwhile, De Niro’s chilling approximation of Gil’s isolation and idolatry recalls some of the actor’s best-known roles. Gil’s worship of Bobby is, in fact, secondary to his mortifying reverence for his childhood teammate Coop (Charles Hallahan). When Gil, in a bind, surfaces at Coop’s doorstep, the beer-bellied man’s instantly horrified expression confirms Gil Renard as one of the most overlooked malcontents in the De Niro pantheon.

The Fan screens on 35mm, Wednesday, 3/20, and Tuesday, 3/26, at the Roxie, as part of Joe Talbot's Lost San Francisco series.



The Fan screens tonight, January 29, at Nitehawk Prospect Park on 35mm as part of the series “Bobby B-Sides.”