The Fan: An Underrated Tony Scott / Robert De Niro Thriller?

We revisit The Fan, an underrated thriller that paired Robert De Niro with Wesley Snipes and director Tony Scott.

Cinematic powerhouse actor Robert De Niro has given us some truly memorable performances for the ages, going all the way back to the 70s starting with Martin Scorsese’s’ Mean Streets. And let’s be honest, the guy clearly understands bat-shit crazy. Mr. DeNiro has some insane range, especially in the nutjob department. We’re talking great films such as Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Cape Fear, The Untouchables, Mean Streets, and This Boy’s Life. But there is one film particularly overlooked in his filmography. A film that creeps along the uncharted path of unseen territory to most. This is 1996’s The Fan (a Best Movie You Never Saw fave of ours here), directed by the late Tony Scott and stars not just De Niro, but Wesley Snipes, Benicio Del Toro, Ellen Barkin, and John Leguizamo. The Fan centers around one man’s downfall and downward spiral into psychotic obsession toward San Francisco Giants outfielder Bobby Rayburn, played by Wesley Snipes. While we truly appreciate De Niro’s acting roles such as Max Cady, Travis Bickle, and Chicago gangster Al Capone, does Gil Renard belong alongside these other all-time great movie foils? 

TONY SCOTT’S OVERLOOKED THRILLER

The Fan was adapted from the book of the same name, written by Peter Abrahams. The book was intriguing enough that Mandalay Entertainment and Tri-Star Pictures developed a script and directorial duties were given to Ridley Scott’s brother, Tony Scott. Tony Scott created some great films such as Enemy of the State, Man on Fire, Top Gun, and Crimson Tide. Unfortunately, Tony Scott died in 2012 due to suicide. His family revealed he was battling cancer and underwent lengthy treatments to subdue the disease. The Fan is a great addition to Scott’s filmography, even if you need to suspend disbelief in certain situations in the movie. Even so, it’s Scott’s directing that makes De Niro’s unhinged performance have some serious legs throughout the film’s runtime.

robert deniro the fan

GIL’S DOWNWARD SPIRAL

Knife Salesman, Gil Renard, resides in San Francisco, currently in a custody battle with his wife over their son Richie. Gil is also an avid Giants fan, and even more excited that his favorite baseball player, Bobby Rayburn, has been traded to the team with a 40-million contract attached to his name. Pretty lucrative in 1996, but pure peanuts by today’s contract standards in Major League Baseball. Gil travels around the San Francisco area in his beat-up van, trying to get some sales and diverting unwanted attention from his boss, Garrity, due to Gil’s sales being soft. Gil also tries to make the most of his time with his son Ritchie, only being allowed limited visitation rights by his ex-wife. I like how the film portrays his wife as a total bitch, seeing Gil as a normal person at the start of the film, but let’s just say my judgements were completely wrong. It also seems he’s a caring father who just wants to spend time with his son. The beginning few scenes assert our comfortability with Gil, a pretty standard blue-collar guy looking to make ends meet, trying to make up for lost time with his son, and attending his favorite player’s baseball games. But we couldn’t be more wrong, as things start to fracture. 

While we may have sided with Gil and appreciated his knowledge of the game during his phone call with Ellen Barkin’s radio personality, Jewel, it’s when his potential sales meetings with clients go south. When one of his clients asks for kayaks instead of knives, this causes Gil to have an unhinged outburst. The other inadvertently causes him to leave his son at the Giants baseball game, so he can close a deal in between innings. The receptionist informs Gil that his client left so he too can be at Giants opening day. Not only does Gil eventually lose the sale, but he technically just lost his son for good in the process due to having him open to being kidnapped. He also loses his job, forcing him to lose his apartment in the process. Not a good week for Gil, that’s for sure. While Gil may have some ill-tempered behavior shouting at baseball fans or pushing his ex-wife down to the floor or even stabbing his boss’ car hood with one long-ass blade, we truly didn’t scratch the surface of Gil’s deranged behavior.  

I GOT MY EYE ON YOU

the fan wesley snipes

With De Niro, he can manage to switch demeanours at the crack of a whip and that’s a testament to his talents. Now that Gil is unemployed and learning to take up bug extermination via knife throws; he turns his true sights to stalking and obsessing over his favorite player Bobby Rayburn. Rayburn came from the Atlanta Braves and is now sharing Giants fandom with another outfielder Juan Primo, who is played by Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro who at the time, was just starting to get his legs in the Hollywood circuit, and has now become an A-lister himself. Del Toro does a wonderful job playing Primo. The problem between these two men is the number 11, which Rayburn represented throughout his career, and is considered his lucky number. Think of MJ’s 23, or Shaq’s 34, or Derek Jeter’s 2. These numbers represent a player’s aura within the sport and the player’s legacy that came with it. Primo is the current holder of number 11, which results in a power struggle of sorts between these two men. You have some arguments, which then lead to a battle royale inside a club bathroom. Gil is hiding in a bathroom stall viewing the ceiling’s reflective mirror, kind of odd there is one in a men’s bathroom, but ok. Well, leave it to Gil to dispatch Primo with a well-placed knife to Primo’s artery inside a hotel sauna when he asks Primo to give up the number for the best interests of the team. Problem solved Mr. Rayburn; you got your number back thanks to your good ol’ pal Gil. 

While Mr. Rayburn enjoys his time playing for the Giants, he doesn’t know who’s obsessing and watching him every game. Crazy to believe, this movie hits hard on those celebrities, musicians, and athletes who have dealt with crazed fan incidents all around the world, or on their own properties. The Fan gives a good insight into this real-life component. Gil stalks Bobby not just from the stands every game, the bars, or from the arena gates, but also from a hill overlooking his beach house.  It’s only when the family dog throws Bobby’s son, Sean, off balance, that the multiple waves cause him to submerge to the ocean floor below. This leaves Gil to take advantage of the situation. Gil dives in and saves Bobby’s son before he can get to him. Once Gil and Shawn make it to the beach, Bobby takes Gil in, but Gil calls himself Curly to throw him off due to prior phone calls they shared during a live radio exchange through Jewel. Bobby knows the voice sounds familiar but can’t put a finger on it until his son is kidnapped, along with the family dog.

ellen barkin the fan

This is all in part to Bobby trashing the fans calling most of them losers while sharing a beer with Gil in his kitchen. To top it off, Gil asks Bobby if he is happier that Primo is dead. Bobby rejects Gil, and tells him he’s not happy at all, even when Bobby is playing at the top of his game after the death of Primo. Gil feels betrayed, considering he killed Primo for him so he can start playing back to peak performance. Gil leaves a chunk of Primo’s shoulder in the fridge for Bobby, which had the tattoo of number 11 on it. Gil meets up with his old friend, Coupe. Gil would always talk about Coupe to his son about their time of playing baseball together. He considered Coupe a know-it-all of the game and an ambassador to the sport. The funny thing though, Gil’s friendship with Coupe was only during Little League, and they lost touch right after that. When Coupe gets Sean away from Gil and makes him jump a fence to flee out of harm’s way, Gil smashes Coupe’s head in with a bat.  Unfortunately for Sean, the chase ends, when a train blocks off his escape route, resulting in a blood-drenched Gil catching up and taking him again. 

NOW DO YOU CARE? 

Since we got a pretty good taste of Gil’s theatrics in the crazy department, his grand crescendo is one for the ages. Bobby has a baseball game tonight, and Gil’s demands are simple. Hit a home run and dedicate it to Gil for being the ultimate fan. If Bobby doesn’t comply with these demands, Gil will kill his son. Gil makes his way into the stadium, with the cops, and feds on his tail of course. You’d think arena security was better with a killer on the loose, but I digress. Throughout the game, Bobby has either hit some warning track shots, or struck out, and he has one last shot to save his son. Thank some good melodramatic rain to potentially call off the game, or the pitcher walking him, resulting in some good stakes at play. When Bobby hits a dinger off the wall, he decides to run for an inside-the-park home run. What clearly looks like being called safe, results in Bobby being called out by the umpire. The crazy thing, the umpire is actually Gil, who probably disposed of the original umpire during the rain delay. This scene is awesome, albeit hard to believe. Bobby throws a nice haymaker, but Gil gets a knife impalement to Bobby’s shoulder for good measure. Some players are killed, and the cops circle around the suspect near the mound. Gil asks Bobby, ‘Now do you care?” He wants Bobby to confess he’s happy Primo’s dead, but Bobby doesn’t answer. Gil is about to throw a knife at Bobby, but the cops kill him with about ten bullets. De Niro’s acting is unbelievable here, going from nutty, to sympathetic, to sad within a few seconds. Gil hints to Bobby where Sean is, before dying from his wounds. It’s a devastating, intense scene that I can never get out of my head when it comes to De Niro’s greatest hits. You kinda feel for Gil, as he was a man who lost it all by the end of the movie, which led him down a path of inconceivable evil deeds.  But let’s make it clear, the guy is clearly nuts.  

ENDING

The Fan is a movie I play back every so often due to the way Tony Scott showcases the bad side of fandom. It has some hard-to-believe scenes, that are backed by the performance of De Niro, which gives the film some definite weight. The supporting cast does their best here as well to keep the thriller train going. To me, this goes right along De Niro’s work as Max Cady in Cape Fear, or Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. I would recommend a playback if you haven’t done so, just to analyze DeNiro’s acting skills here. We get a different level of unhinged here, but it’s as if Max Cady and Gil Renard are brothers. Cady is a little more vicious in my eyes though, I mean who can forget that handcuffing scene or the climax on the boat towards the end of the film? For those who haven’t seen The Fan it’s a solid thriller with some incredibly intense moments from a late and talented director that flies under everyone’s radar. Check it out if you haven’t already done so. 

About the Author

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Paul Bookstaber is currently a video editor and writer for Joblo Media Inc, and loves all things movies, especially the horror genre! Paul was also a prior video producer/video editor for the NBA, traveling around the country and attending live broadcasted events for four NBA seasons. Paul is also an avid basketball player, loves spending time with his family, and watching anything and everything that peaks his interest. Paul has been a massive fan of Joblo spanning back to 2006, and is proud to be a part of this tremendous team of film enthusiasts and cinema lovers alike! Some of Paul’s favorite films in no particular order are Heat, Road to Perdition, Collateral, The Batman, The Dark Knight, Seven, Prisoners, Blade Runner 2049, Terminator 2, There Will Be Blood, Last Samurai, Top Gun Maverick, The Prestige, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Halloween 78’ and Whiplash.