Dissecting a specific aspect of American popular culture in the 1980s, American Psycho is an extraordinary satire that stares deep into the heart of the narcissistic and materialistic world of the yuppie and finds only superficiality and ultra violence. Based on the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis, it reveals a primal and aggressive world where business is ruthless and power and money rule all. It is in this environment that Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) exists, at once the epitome of yuppie culture and a faceless clone of his fellow colleagues, Bateman’s extreme narcissism leads him on the road to murder and madness.
Bale’s performance is superb, from his clipped American accent to his perfectly toned body, he plays Bateman with deadpan conviction – and as a result creates moments of the blackest comedy in the horrifying murder sequences. Bale moves from arrogant, obsessive and evil to a pathetic and mentally broken man; watching his crumbling veneer is both a mesmerising experience and a master class in acting. Much of Bateman’s torture and cruelty from the book is merely referenced here, steering the picture away from violent pornography and firmly in the direction of satire. The food, music, gadgets and interior design of the upper echelons of 80s American society are obsessively detailed here and are the crux of some of the best comedy moments in the film.
While Mary Harron may have seemed an unlikely choice to head up the film (Oliver Stone was originally attached to the project), she pushes the work in interesting directions. Her previous feature was the excellent I Shot Andy Warhol , which explored the motivation of Valerie Solanas, the 60s radical feminist who murdered Andy Warhol. Here Harron hones in on an extreme male and the very particular picture of modern masculinity that Bateman embodies; one where male aggression is bred by business but left no physical outlets in modern western society. Covering similar ground to Fight Club, American Psycho can be read as a film that goes some way in exploring the crisis of the male in contemporary society. But it is ultimately the many layers and genres that Harron manages to include that create the film’s success: period piece, black comedy, cerebral horror movie and stinging satire all combine in a film that lingers slightly unpleasantly in the mind well after the credits have rolled.
Canada – USA | 102 minutes | 2000
Director: Mary Harron
Writer: Guinevere Turner, from Bret Easton Ellis’s novel
Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman
Willem Dafoe as Detective Donald Kimball
Jared Leto as Paul Allen
Josh Lucas as Craig McDermott
Samantha Mathis as Courtney Rawlinson
Matt Ross as Luis Carruthers
Bill Sage as David Van Patten
Chloë Sevigny as Jean
Cara Seymour as Christie
Justin Theroux as Timothy Bryce
Guinevere Turner as Elizabeth
Reese Witherspoon as Evelyn Williams
Krista Sutton as Sabrina
Reg E. Cathey as Al
Anthony Lemke as Marcus Halberstram
Stephen Bogaert as Harold Carnes
Monika Meier as Daisy
Blair Williams as Waiter #1
Marie Dame as Victoria
Kelley Harron as Bar Girl
Patricia Gage as Mrs. Wolfe
Landy Cannon as Man at Pierce and Pierce
Park Bench as Stash
Catherine Black as Vanden
Margaret Ma as Dry Cleaner Woman
Peter Tufford Kennedy as Hamilton
Mark Pawson as Humphrey Rhineback
Jessica Lau as Facialist
Lilette Wiens as Maitre Dí
Glen Marc Silot as Waiter
Charlotte Hunter as Libby
Kiki Buttignol as Caron
Joyce R. Korbin as Woman at ATM
Reuben Thompson as Waiter #2
Bryan Renfro as Night Watchman
Ross Gibby as Man Outside Store
Christina McKay as Young Woman
Alan McCullough as Man in Stall
Connie Chen as Gwendolyn Ichiban
Brett Alexander Davidson as Bartender (uncredited)
Peter Loung as Dancer (uncredited)
Joseph Oliveira as Restaurant Patron (uncredited)
Leanne Poirier Greenfield as Party Girl (uncredited)
Somaya Reece as Bar Girl (uncredited)
Kate Steen as Pierce and Pierce Girl (uncredited)
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