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American Psycho (2000)

Review

Author
Date
08-07-2002
Comments

Lurking below the skin of every seemingly well-adjusted male is a homicidal psychopath waiting to burst out. Such is the message behind Mary Harron's adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis's misogynistic Me Generation novel. This film is as much at home with Fight Club as it is the recent spate of "I Remember the 80s" flicks.

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) at first appears to be the least despicable member of a group of self-obsessed Wall Street yuppies. However, appearances are quite deceiving, as we slowly learn. It seems that Bateman's nocturnal activities have a slightly... deadly ring to them.

Largely plotless, the script (by Harron and Guinevere Turner) is mainly a series of interconnected event without an overtly obvious story arc. In many ways, it resembles a biopic that never really gets to the heart of its subject. The difference here is that there is no heart to Bateman. By his own admission, he simply is not there - and therein lies the brilliance of American Psycho.

Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000)Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000)

There is an arc, although it does make it self apparent at the outset. American Psycho is the very structured descent into madness of Patrick Bateman. Up front, his violent tendencies are merely hinted at. As the film progresses, though, his blood lust becomes more and more graphically obvious, until there can be no doubt that the main character is "utterly insane."

In the hands of a less capable actor, this flick would be a soppy ode to unnecessary violence. Bale, however, is more than up to the task, and gives the movie the blackly comic edge it desperately needs to work. His Bateman is comfortable talking about Huey Lewis and the News or performing heinous murders, but breaks into a cold sweat when it appears that his business card isn't as good as a co-worker's. The overly affected Yuppie accent that Bale puts on gives the perfect tone for the casually twisted lines he has to toss off. My only complaint is that occasionally the Welsh actor teeters dangerously close to parody.

Bale is surrounded by a great supporting cast (and I emphasize supporting, because unlike most films, Bale is the center of the film - everybody else is just passing through). Second-billed Willem Dafoe has roughly five minutes of screen time and gives a cheerily off-putting performance. Most of the rest (including the best-looking guy to be content with supporting roles in off-beat films, Jared Leto) play vacuous, rich idiots that are impossible to like. Of course, this is the point. Bateman may be homicidal, but he's got some amount of justification. Very few of the people he kills seem to be worth the air they breathe.

Harron plucks depth out of shallowness, substance out of a vacuum, and makes American Psycho a surprisingly layered and entertaining film. The only weakness is an ending that's far too ambiguous for its own good. But beyond that, this is a refreshing antidote to the banal slasher films that still seem to get made.

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