American Psycho


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

American Psycho
"A quite brilliant, blacker-than-black-usually-is comedy filled with biting satire that is packed to the designer-label rafters in subtext."

Let’s be honest, American Psycho won’t be what most people are expecting. Based on the super-controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis (hamsters being shoved where they shouldn’t be, anyone?), those in the market for a conventional murder-thriller will be left wanting. Instead, what we get is a quite brilliant, blacker-than-black-usually-is comedy filled with biting satire that is packed to the designer-label rafters in subtext.

Despite being wealthy, popular and good-looking, Wall Street investment banker Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) isn’t close to being satisfied. Though everyone around him thinks he’s as normal as they are, Patrick is driven by a deep compulsion to commit gruesome acts of murder and worse. With his bloodlust worsening after murdering a more successful colleague (Jared Leto), a private investigator (Willem Dafoe) starts asking questions while his mental state starts to spin out of control…

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Indeed, unlike the titular anti-hero, there’s loads going on beneath the surface. With constant undertones of Eighties excess and the me-first attitude of the generation, the themes include consumerism and consumption (see Bale’s daily routine or constant label-dropping), identity (interchangeable people getting confused by others) and co-worker one-upmanship (a business card scene is incredibly well-played). Full of small, near-perfect details (such as the sound when exchanging said cards), the message is clear – the restaurants, the clothes and the material possessions are all a constant effort to avoid that empty feeling inside.

Still, it’ll come as a surprise that it was directed by a woman. Though the initial contenders talked about were Oliver Stone, David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma and Renny Harlin (Huh? Really?), former BBC documentarian Mary Harron proved an ideal choice. While the macho-vibe and woman-bashing (“there are no women with good personalities”) might initially come across as misogynistic, Harron actually paints the men as foolish. Additionally, by wisely keeping almost all the gruesome acts off-screen or just out-of-sight, the horror works much better.

And yet, for all its qualities, American Psycho ultimately (bunny) boils down to Patrick Bateman. Thankfully, Christian Bale is more than up to the task – totally inhabiting the character with spot-on mannerisms (changing from cold killer to yuppie gent instantly) and such flawless delivery that he makes every line into a potential quote.

The supporting cast is impressive – particularly Dafoe as the ominous ‘does he know?’ detective and Reece Witherspoon as the oblivious girlfriend – but this is Bale’s show and his alone. While heavyweights Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio were eyeing the part (indeed, Christian was dumped for Leo, then reinstated again), it’s now unimaginable to have anyone else play Bateman.

And the bad points? Well, it loses it towards the end with a too-hectic final half-hour, many people just won’t get it and, aside from Chloe Sevigny’s sweet secretary, there aren’t really any likeable characters. The ambiguous ending will also split opinions, but for those who have immersed themselves in proceedings, they’ll see it as a fitting denouement.

Warped? Yes. A tough watch? Perhaps. Near-genius? Too right. It might not be what people were expecting, but American Psycho is an extraordinary motion picture. Going against Bateman’s own argument, the glossy surface is nice, but it’s what’s inside that matters.

Reviewed on: 02 Sep 2009
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American Psycho packshot
Tales of a yuppie serial killer.
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Read more American Psycho reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Mary Harron

Writer: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner. Based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis

Starring: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon

Year: 1999

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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