American Psycho
Starring: Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis, Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny
Director:

Mary Harron

Writing credits: Bret Easton Ellis (novel), Mary Harron
Distributor: Lion's Gate  *  97 minutes
Rated: R
  (US 2000)

axe.jpg - 14535 BytesThe surface-is-substance world of the 1980's is, from our well-ensconced position in the 21st century, an era ripe for deconstruction, even satire and ridicule. Bret Easton Ellis, the enfant terrible of the modern literary scene, came to prominence by doing just that. His horrifying novel American Psycho, which has just been adapted and directed for the screen by Mary Harron, attempted to make connections between the stylistic emptiness of yuppie corporate culture and the search for genuine emotional experience. In his sensational version, of course, the emotional experience was that of serial killing, which lent the novel a frightening, compulsive context.


The film AMERICAN PSYCHO, however, has no such latitude, thanks to the economics of mass entertainment and the strict guidelines of the Motion Picture Association Of America (which originally slapped this film with an NC-17 rating; the edited version, released now, received an R). Director Mary Harron has made, perhaps, the only choice she could have made -- reduce the gory violence and highlight the comedic, satirical elements of Ellis' story. It's a strategy that suceeds in entertaining the audience, but diminishes the overall power of the social critique Ellis had in mind.


The AMERICAN PSYCHO in question is Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a young corporate executive who seems to have little to do in his company besides have arbitrary meetings scheduled by his secretary Jean (Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny). His 'friends', if you can call them that, include fellow young guns like Timothy Bryce (Justin Theroux), competitors like Paul Owen (Jared Leto), a clueless fiancee, Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon), and a drug-addled mistress, Courtney Rawlinson (Samantha Mathis). For Bateman, it's a lifestyle built upon what he should be doing -- climbing the ladder, making the points, making sure even small details (including a hilarious obsession with business card printing) keep him at the top of his game.

card2.jpg - 27307 BytesStill, Bateman finds it all unsatisfying. He works out incessantly, drinks constantly, snorts cocaine daily, but ultimately only finds satisfaction in killing those less deserving that himself. What begins as the removal of unsightly social elements, like homeless people, eventually becomes more -- he kills Paul Owen in a fit a jealousy, as well as a street prostitute (Cara Seymour) for simply getting away from him. He accompanies his murderous spree with extemporaneous ruminations about pop culture, including thoughtful, detailed reviews of Huey Lewis and The News and Phil Collins' "Sussudio" while preparing to decimate his unknowning victims.

tan.jpg - 13377 BytesStill, Bateman finds it all unsatisfying. He works out incessantly, drinks constantly, snorts cocaine daily, but ultimately only finds satisfaction in killing those less deserving that himself. What begins as the removal of unsightly social elements, like homeless people, eventually becomes more -- he kills Paul Owen in a fit a jealousy, as well as a street prostitute (Cara Seymour) for simply getting away from him. He accompanies his murderous spree with extemporaneous ruminations about pop culture, including thoughtful, detailed reviews of Huey Lewis and The News and Phil Collins' "Sussudio" while preparing to decimate his unknowning victims.

Putting aside the betrayals of its own source material, however, AMERICAN PSYCHO offers some charming elements that making viewing worthwhile. Chief among this is Bale, who is superb as Bateman. Buffed, tan, with a gleaming smile, Bale charms both the camera and his victims with a cool, detached suavity. His bloodlust is as believable as it is hilarious; chasing a woman with a chainsaw while naked isn't the easiest task for an actor, but Bale hits a delicate balance between comedy and rage. In scenes where he exposes Bateman's narcissism -- watching himself in the mirror as he has sex with two women, or experiencing shock when someone mistakes him for a homosexual -- Bale navigates the difficult material with maturity and confidence.

chloe.jpg - 41975 BytesThe Gen-X cast features some of the most talented actors working today, including memorable turns by Sevigny, Witherspoon and Leto. The gleamingly pristine art direction by Andrew M. Stearn and minutely detailed production design by Gideon Ponte are Oscar-worthy; indeed, the atmosphere is practically a character unto itself, exposing more about the characters that they would ever admit.


AMERICAN PSYCHO is, clearly, a missed opportunity; fans of Ellis will undoubtably hang their heads in sadness watching the film. For others, however, it's still worth viewing. Patrick Bateman's morality tale may not be as strong as it was on paper, but for moviegoers, it will nevertheless prove a rollicking good time. Think of it as comic cinema for the sicko inside all of us. Feed your own inner Ted Bundy.

-Gabriel Shanks

 

Read Jill's review of AMERICAN PSYCHO

Review text copyright © 2000 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

Back to Top

| Home | Archive |