Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon, Chloë Sevigny, Jared Leto, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Cara Seymour, Samantha Mathis
Directed by Mary Harron
American Psycho is a tough movie to categorize. It’s not really a horror movie, or a drama, or a dark comedy, but it exhibits many traits of all three genres. It makes for an interesting movie to say the least, but unfortunately it’s a bit soulless so it ends up being less than it could be. The soulless nature of the film is a reflection of its main character though, and perfectly portrays the 1980s culture of narcissism and the “dog eat dog” mentality of corporate America. This element is arguably a great strength, despite my personal dislike of it, and helps director Mary Harron do exactly what she sets out to do when making the film.
Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, Wall Street exec and all-around yuppie stereotype. He’s ultra-narcissistic and self-serving and Bale plays the role convincingly and with ease. The entire supporting cast is great as well, but as Bale hogs up most of the runtime, they are all relegated to fairly minor parts, so don’t get too excited looking at the cast list. Willem Dafoe is only in three or four short scenes, for instance. This is completely Bale’s film and he proves here why he has become the star he is today. Those who don’t generally care for his performances may not be won over with his work here, but he does craft a career-defining role that never feels forced or unnatural. I’ve always felt that Bale possessed something of a psychotic nature so he’s a good fit in the film, but maybe I’m just buying into his wonderful method acting in this and the Nolan Batman films.
One of the interesting things about American Psycho is just how non-exploitative it is, while working with some seriously exploitation-ready material. Patrick Bateman is a man consumed by his desires and his absolute disgust with others. He cannot control his urges, flying into a psychotic rage when a co-worker’s new business card is better received than his own new card. I really loved these little business card moments that happened here and there throughout the film. Each unveiling is special and handled with slight slow motion and perfect sound effects. The differences in the cards are all minor, but each new card is welcomed with hushed whispers and congrats.
I am very impressed by Harron’s ability to make a film, and quite surprised that she has not made more. American Psycho is only her second of three films so far, and regardless of any problems I had with the film overall, it is impressive. I look forward to watching her others and hopefully they are as well made as this was. She had some help with the film’s look from Polish cinematographer Andrzej Sekuła, who also shot Reservoir Dogs & Pulp Fiction among others. The film’s shots are classy and well-defined and evoke cinema of years past. Many times through the film I felt like I was watching a movie made in the late 1980s and it is a testament to the filmmakers that their ruse worked so well. The meticulous clothing and hairstyles with mixed pastel backgrounds sell the era almost instantly and better than most other films that have tried.
American Psycho is one of those films with the rare quality that allows you to continuously think about the film days after viewing it. It is purposefully left open-ended to allow for viewer speculation, which makes for an easily discussed picture. While I doubt I will ever have a desire to see it again, it is a film that will stay with me. Upon its release it was very controversial and initially received an NC-17 before some minor cuts were made. I don’t feel that any controversy surrounding it has any merit though, the film neither glorifies its violence or revels in it. Harron handles the violent and sexual nature of the character extremely well and paints a stunning portrait of Bateman’s character and his methodical nature. I didn’t love, I didn’t hate it, but I am impressed. Recommended if you’re in the mood to jump inside the mind of a true American psycho.