The new film Manodrome marks an ambitious step into darker territory for director John Trengove. Featuring Jesse Eisenberg as Ralphie, a down-on-his-luck Uber driver, and Adrien Brody as the charismatic leader of a men’s group called Dad Dan, the psychological thriller explores the radicalization of disenfranchised men.
When Ralphie joins Dad Dan’s band of disaffected followers preaching male separatism and primal masculinity, he finds purpose in their chilling ideology. But his new “family” empowers Ralphie’s worst impulses, sending him spiraling into violence.
Manodrome has drawn understandable comparisons to Fight Club with its stark depiction of insecure men driven by misogyny and homophobia. But while both films shine a light on toxic masculinity, Manodrome aims to serve as a modern warning about online radicalization.
In this review, we’ll examine the performances, direction, and technical elements that bring this unsettling story to life. Does Manodrome offer an impactful exploration of gender issues and extremism relevant to our current moment? Or does it miss the mark despite captivating lead actors? Read on to see if this psychological drama is worth a trip down the manodrome.
A Driver’s Dark Spiral into Extremism
As Manodrome opens, we’re introduced to Ralphie, played compellingly against type by Jesse Eisenberg. Ralphie is an Uber driver struggling to support his pregnant girlfriend Sal (Odessa Young) after being laid off from his industrial job. Feelings of failure and abandonment already simmer within Ralphie, who was left by his father as a child one Christmas Day.
Sal’s inconvenient pregnancy and need for financial help feel like confinement closing in on Ralphie. He seeks escape through intense weightlifting sessions at a gritty underground gym. There he befriends Jason (Philip Ettinger), who supplies him with drugs and validation.
When Jason suggests a men’s group to help guys like them, Ralphie meets the charismatic Dad Dan, portrayed with dangerous warmth by Adrien Brody. Dan invites the adrift Ralphie to ditch domestic life and move into his commune, where the men empower each other through primal rituals.
At first, their rhetoric resonates with Ralphie’s sense of abandonment and thwarted masculinity. He throws himself into the group, while ignoring Sal’s needs despite her approaching due date.
Intoxicated by the feeling of belonging with Dad Dan’s band, Ralphie’s latent violence steadily rises to the surface. He commits hate crimes against effeminate men to gain the family’s approval, with Dad Dan stoking his anger at the emasculating outside world.
As Ralphie descends into their extremist ideology, ceasing all communication with Sal, it becomes clear the only path forward is one of appalling destruction. Driven by this insidious new purpose, he fully surrenders himself to the manodrome’s underground current.
Plumbing the Depths of Masculine Anger and Radicalization
Manodrome employs the tense spiraling of its protagonist to explore several penetrating themes surrounding the vulnerable state of modern masculinity. While thought-provoking, the film struggles to steer these weighty ideas into the type of resonant statement achieved by its clear inspiration, Fight Club.
At the story’s fore is a portrayal of toxic masculinity taken to its most violent ends. Ralphie’s insecurities surrounding his manhood initially manifest in homophobia, a self-destructive exercise regimen, and emotional unavailability toward his pregnant girlfriend. By embracing the retrograde rhetoric of Dad Dan’s group, Ralphie gains permission to fully unleash his most bigoted and savage impulses.
This hugbox of hypermasculinity represents the repressive worldview of male separatists who feel emasculated by society. By encouraging men to abandon their families, the group provides the acceptance Ralphie craves. The irony is that for all Ralphie’s complaints about domestic life neutering his manhood, it’s the coddling groupthink of the cult that truly infantilizes him.
Most chilling is the film’s examination of online radicalization and how regular men can transform into unhinged attackers. Through Manodrome’s cult indoctrination, we witness the dynamics of how extremist movements groom new recruits through validation. By steadily escalating rhetoric and conditioning violent behavior, they funnel directionless rage into ideological extremism.
Ralphie himself evokes modern incels in his entitled hatred of women and society, along with his seemly ambiguous sexuality. Manodrome provides an unsettling character study that echoes current events, even if Ralphie’s motivations don’t feel wholly authentic.
Though Manodrome seeks to update Fight Club’s disaffected masculinity for the internet age, Trengrove’s film lacks the artistic impact to match its aspiration. But the themes alone make Manodrome worth examining as both a character study and a dire warning sign of online radicalization.
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Captivating Lead Turns Anchored by Adrien Brody
Anchoring this rigorous character study is a transformative lead performance from Jesse Eisenberg. Shedding his reputation for snarky, cerebral characters, Eisenberg physically fills out the role of the insecure Ralphie.
Through tense silences and blistering outbursts, he evokes a man whose sense of masculine inadequacy curdles into resentment and buried rage. Eisenberg’s characterization echoes current events, providing an intimate portrait of how average men can turn into unmoored attackers when radicalized.
As cult leader Dad Dan, Adrien Brody mesmerizes in the most compelling supporting turn. Exuding a Zen charisma, Brody portrays Dan as equal partsPredator and nurturer. His pseudo-intellectual rhetoric carries just enough persuasive power to explain Ralphie’s seduction.
Brody brings an empathy to Dan that Ralphie lacks, deepening the character beyond a simple Tyler Durden copy. It’s a performance that draws you into the film even when the script falters.
Less developed is Odessa Young’s role as the pregnant girlfriend Sal. While Young turns in strong work, the thin characterization fails to fully establish Sal beyond her function as a domestic obligation binding Ralphie. Her sparse screen time makes Ralphie’s ultimate choices feel more theoretical than emotionally urgent.
Between Eisenberg’s committed pivot to rage-fueled masculinity and Brody’s hypnotic turn as a shepherd of disenfranchised men, the lead acting provides Manodrome’s greatest strengths. Their performances hold attention even when the larger themes lack dimension.
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Crafting an Atmosphere of Male Anxiety
Helming Manodrome, director John Trengove displays a firm command of atmospheric tension as Ralphie’s grip spirals. Through claustrophobic framing and unnerving environments, he constructs a palpable mood of masculine unease and radicalization.
Cinematographer Wyatt Garfield employs a gritty, shadowy aesthetic reminiscent of Taxi Driver. Shooting in the dilapidated gym, the grimy streets, and the commune’s wood-paneled rooms, Garfield’s framing suggests the world closing in on Ralphie.
Trengove himself scripts the screenplay which thoughtfully investigates potent themes. But at times the pacing drags momentum as the runtime stretches past two hours. Events build slowly to the unsurprising finish, sapping urgency from Ralphie’s breakdown.
The most glaring weakness of the script is underdeveloping supporting characters like Sal and the communard men. We never fully understand Sal beyond her pregnancy, making Ralphie’s choices land less powerfully. The commune itself feels vaguely sketched, more a plot device than an organic community.
Where Manodrome succeeds most is in crafting an evocative atmosphere around its central character. Through production design, framing, and sound, it constructs a tangible world of masculine confusion and anger from which Ralphie struggles in vain to escape. But the film often feels more resonant in its details than its overarching ideas.
A Compelling Atmosphere, But Themes Lack Resonance
In the end, Manodrome aims to provide an impactful modern exploration of gender extremism and radicalization online. But despite strong lead performances and crafting a disturbing mood, the film struggles to fully draw the deeper themes into clear relief.
While more provocative on paper, Manodrome lacks the lasting statement of a true cultural touchstone like Fight Club. Trengrove succeeds more in testing Jesse Eisenberg’s range and creating immediate atmosphere than resonating commentary.
Where the film works best is as a character study of insecure masculinity curdling into extremism when stoked by validation. Manodrome provides an up-close examination of how apparently average men can violently unravel when swayed by dark influences.
But undercooked supporting roles muddy the larger message. While Eisenberg and Brody captivate, the themes too often feel theoretical.
Still, Manodrome offers an unsettling if imperfect lens on the volatile state of modern manhood and the threat of online radicalization. Viewers will find it a challenging glimpse at how social alienation can prime men for extremist rhetoric. Even if the film misses the mark, its vision remains discomfitingly relevant.
Manodrome aims admirably high but lacks the resonance to fully deliver on its lofty goals. While worth seeing for captivating lead performances and an atmosphere thick with dread, the larger themes too often feel undercooked. Still, the film provides an unsettling character study and warning sign of online radicalization worthy of discussion.
- Jesse Eisenberg delivers an impressive performance against type as the insecure Ralphie
- Adrien Brody is captivating as the charismatic cult leader Dad Dan
- The film creates an effectively unnerving and tense atmosphere
- Raises thought-provoking themes surrounding toxic masculinity, radicalization, and extremist groups
- Provides a relevant modern lens on gender issues and incel culture
- Supporting characters like Sal are underdeveloped
- The plot builds slowly, sapping momentum at times
- Never fully delivers resonance or impact promised by the themes
- Lacks the artistic achievement of a film like Fight Club which it invokes
- Ralphie's motivations are not wholly fleshed out or authentic feeling