A Chilling Indictment of the '80s
Stylish, satirical, and soulless, American Psycho goes inside the mind of a serial killer who looks more like a matinee idol than a murderer. It also questions if Patrick Bateman, the film’s title character, is any more demented than the society in which he lives.
Symbolizing the materialism and self-centeredness of the 1980s, Bateman (Christian Bale) cares about things, not people. Exotic body lotions, expensive suits, hi-tech equipment, and fancy business cards mean more to him than his fiance (Reese Witherspoon), his mistress (Samantha Mathis), or his co-workers. As part of a cookie-cutter group of Wall Street brokers, he is often mistaken for one of his firm’s many other vice presidents. Whether reacting to a dehumanized environment or simply following his own psychotic impulses, Bateman spends his leisure time in torturing and killing numerous victims. When he tells anyone about these killing sprees, each person is too self-absorbed to listen. He informs one woman that he is involved in "murders and executions," but she hears it as "mergers and acquisitions." While narrating his story, he states calmly, "There is no real me; there is an idea of myself, some kind of abstraction."
Although playing an unbalanced character, Bale has no problem balancing horror with dark humor in this remarkable performance. His monologues about pop music, delivered so authoritatively in the midst of terrifying and raunchy activities, both shock and amuse. The hunky Welsh-born actor even manages a comic flair while wielding a chain saw! (His current role is a far cry from that sympathetic youngster in Empire of the Sun.) Based on Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel, the film version of American Psycho emphasizes black comedy over gore, but it’s still a very frightening movie. The senseless killing of a homeless man, the brutal axe murder of a colleague, and the bloody slaughter of a debutante are among its most disturbing scenes. American Psycho is the first movie since Natural Born Killers to give me nightmares.
"My mask of sanity is about to slip," Bateman observes as it becomes more and more difficult to keep his two lives separate. At this point in the film, my own sanity seemed in danger too. Why? Because the dreaded "maybe this is a dream or an hallucination" ploy rears its ugly head, causing me to doubt the movie’s entire premise. And, just when Bateman has convinced me he’s all bad, he lets one of his victims go. His humble secretary (Chloe Sevigny), who worships him, is the lucky lady.
Most of the screen time in American Psycho belongs to Bale, so the other cast members have little to do. In addition to those already mentioned, Jared Leto appears as one of Bateman’s fellow brokers (who is not as lucky as his secretary), Willem Dafoe as a detective investigating a missing person case, Cara Seymour as an unhappy hooker, and Guinevere Turner (one of the screenwriters) as a doomed debutante.
Director Mary Harron also co-wrote the script for this cinematic adaptation of Ellis’ book. Even the opening credits are visually creative, as witness the dessert sauce, dripping on screen like blood from a wound. Unfortunately, because this fascinating film includes no relief from depravity, no glimmer of hope, it appears to lack sensitivity and soul. Patrick Bateman himself concludes, "There is no catharsis --- no punishment. I gain no degree of knowledge of myself." Nevertheless, American Psycho emerges as a powerful indictment of the Me Generation and its lingering value system.
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for strong violence, sexuality, drug use and language.)