Tony Scott admitted in an interview for Film4 once that had Robert De Niro not been attached to The Fan, it would not have interested him. “The Fan was a go project and I wanted to work with Bobby DeNiro” Scott explained. “I didn’t have much interest in the script originally. In fact I’d passed on it twice before. But I very much wanted to work with Robert De Niro.”
The Fan follows down-on-his-luck knife-salesman, Gil Renard (De Niro), whose life is completely overrun by his obsession with baseball. When his favourite baseball team sign a new all-star player named Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes), a new level of obsession is born in Gil. Abandoning his commitments to his job, his ex-wife and his son, Gil becomes fixated on helping an unaware Rayburn get out of his career slump and turn things around for the team – even if it means having to murder those that stand in the way.
Scott’s lack of interest in the material is certainly not on show from a directorial point of view (he also brought Frank Darabont in, having loved The Shawshank Redemption, to “punch the script up”).
The Fan has in fact become somewhat famous (or infamous) amongst critics for having an average shot length of no more then 3 seconds. Many argue that, for a film that is nothing more then another tired play on the conventions of the subgenre started with Fatal Attraction and driven into the ground and further still since, such a ‘flourish’ was unnecessary and “excessive”.
On the other hand, what the critics of such a ‘flourish’ didn’t realise was that Scott was planning further ahead when working on The Fan. This film was no different a testing ground for the director then the commercial assignments he took between movie projects to test out new lens, equipment and shooting vehicles.
Scott was honest about the fact that he had Enemy Of The State in the pipeline and was thinking about a new shooting style and working with new equipment on that movie. So he used the shoot for The Fan to test out the things he wanted to work with for his next movie. As a result, what would be a stale movie in anyone else’s hands is a visually interesting and extremely well-cast one thanks to Tony Scott.
And what a cast: De Niro, Wesley Snipes (doing some of his best work), Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo, Benicio Del Toro, Kurt Fuller, M.C Gainey, Jack Black, John Carroll Lynch and Charles Hallahan.
The Fan was released in 1996, a period where cinemas were awash with films of this ilk. It came out off of a run in which Tony Scott hit us with the triple-whammy of The Last Boy Scout, True Romance and Crimson Tide, so it felt like a lesser product almost immediately. Plus, many felt that coming off the back of Heat and Casino, that something like this was “beneath” De Niro’s talents.
But time has been kind to this film – it stands now as one of the more memorable of all the mid-90s “terror-from-within” psycho thriller movies. It’s certainly the best directed of all of them. And, come on, looking at De Niro’s cinematic CV now sixteen years on, The Fan seems far from beneath what the actor was worth appearing in.
Check out the other articles in this feature (will update this list as they are released):