Reel Reviews | Magazine Dreams (Sundance ’23)

by Tim Gordon

What do you do when you are your own worst enemy?

An obsessive and driven bodybuilder is intent to reach his goal to be not just a champion but someone who will be remembered in the imperfect, yet powerhouse drama, Magazine Dreams.

Killian Maddox (Jonathan Majors) is a workout animal. Constantly working to create the perfect body, he exercises several times a day, eats large amounts of food, and chases it with his steroid shots. His dream is to be on the top of the proverbial mountain as a bodybuilding champion and nothing will stand in his way.

Maddox has no friends, interest, or desire for anything that will not help him achieve his ultimate objective. The only person that he communicates with on a regular basis is his therapist (Harriet Sansom Harris), for his severe anger management issues. He shares just enough to get him through each session. When not working out, he works at the local supermarket and fantasizes about his co-worker, Jessie (Haley Bennett), and caring for his elderly grandfather, William (Harrison Page). He idolizes bodybuilding champion, Brad Vanderhorn (Mike O’Hearn) and much like Eminem’s “Stan,” writes letters and leaves awkward messages for his hero, which end in “I’m Your Number One Fan.”

Suffering from low self-esteem and with his interpersonal skills slightly stunted, Maddox isn’t comfortable around and appears to not like people. Much like Bruce Banner, Maddox is angry all the time but struggles to control his anger. After a group of painters failed to put a second coat on his grandfather’s house, Maddox goes into a ‘roid rage, breaking the glass and damaging a local hardware store, and injuring himself in the attack. Angry and drugged up, he gets into an accident driving away from the scene of the attack. When the doctor tells him that his rampant drug use has placed him in jeopardy and he wants to operate, Maddox refuses surgery so as not to damage his physique.

His most physical role to date, Majors channels both Robert DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta (Raging Bull) and Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) in this powerhouse cinematic marvel. Majors’ character’s single-mindedness is unnerving and there are scenes where he is downright scary. His character is like a ticking time bomb, ready to detonate at a moment’s notice. He totally immerses himself into this character and it is my belief that if this film is released mid to late this year, Majors would be in the conversation for acting awards.

There are several scenes where Maddox’s anger explodes and after comes back down is unaware of his actions that have either caused him to let a date with Jessie implode or his audacious actions at a bodybuilder competition where he competes after a beatdown. And who can forget his menacing outburst at a local diner that left everyone holding their breath and terrified of him and at the thought that any one of them could be next in his crosshairs.

Written and directed by Elijah Bynum (Hot Summer Nights, The Deliverance) has crafted a dark, intense sledgehammer of a story that examines obsessive behavior and how it affects everyone around them. Despite Majors’ bravura performance, the screenplay doesn’t match his energy. There are several continuity issues that plague the film, and it feels like the film could use a trim of 20-25 minutes. There is a minor subplot that felt slightly misplaced in this story and if removed would turn a good film potentially into a great one.

Nevertheless, Majors should be applauded for his absolute commitment to doing whatever it took to look the part. Working out several times a day for four months and ingesting 6,000 pounds a day, he is quite the specimen in this story. Having said that Magazine Dreams is a pitch-black look into the mind of a focused, yet unhinged workout warrior, driven by his insatiable need to be seen and acknowledged. Ultimately, that may be more important to Maddox than his championship aspirations, but we don’t share his American dream, but we surely witness his American nightmare.

Grade: B-