American Psycho

2000 / 101m - USA
Comedy, Thriller
American Psycho poster

One of the quintessential early millennium films. Mary Harron's American Psycho was one of those projects everyone was talking about back in the day, which means it was pretty much unavoidable for a budding film fan like myself. Back then I didn't really know what to expect (apart from knowing who Christian Bale was), which is by far the best way to approach this film. That did make me a little apprehensive to revisit it, as I was quite unsure whether it would still hold up almost two decades later. I'm happy to say the film didn't disappoint.

screen capture of American Psycho

American Psycho is an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' book by the same name. I never read the novel, so I can't really comment on whether it's a very faithful adaptation (and based on several other sources, it seems that opinions are pretty divided anyway). The somewhat wayward structure of the film does betray that quite a bit had to be cut or reworked to fit everything in the confines of a single film. It wasn't a real negative for me, I tend to prefer a more concise delivery over endless details, but it's certainly something that could irritate fans of the book.

Luckily, the core theme of the book/film is still pretty relevant. Some of the elements, like the musical cues, clothing styles, and brand references may be pretty dated, but the issues and afflictions Patrick Bateman, the lead character, is dealing with here can be easily ported to the modern era. He is a man trying very hard to fit in, devoid of any genuine feelings, no interest in the wellbeing of others, and ultimately yearning for affirmation that is forever out of reach. This makes him a terribly unsympathetic character, but the dry, cynical comedy takes care of that.

Patrick Bateman looks like a successful man. He is young, well-groomed, has a beautiful and wealthy girlfriend which he is about to marry, and he earns bucketloads of money without really having to work for it. And yet, he is not really all that content. He sleeps around, tries to outdo his colleagues every chance he gets, and is generally annoyed by everyone around him. Things take a turn for the worse when Bateman develops a taste for blood and discovers he can get away with pretty much anything, as long as he keeps his facade up.

screen capture of American Psycho

Visually, it's not a terrible-looking film, but it's not quite as slick as I remembered it to be. There are some solid visual ideas here, it's just that they get a little lost because of the somewhat tepid execution. The camera work is decent but a little uneventful, the coloring is rather murky and unpronounced (whites tend to look very grey, which is odd for a film about a detailed-oriented neat freak) and the lighting isn't all that evocative. I'm not sure whether it was a budgetary issue, or if Harron simply didn't care much about such details, but it could've given the film a little extra punch, pushing the impact even further.

The soundtrack isn't my favorite, but I must admit Harron uses it wisely. Bateman is a big pop fan and loves to flaunt his knowledge and opinions about various artists and albums. That means you get quite a lot of shitty 80s pop music on the soundtrack but coupled with Bateman's comments these scenes are actually very funny. It's a good example of how to make music integral to the film, without having to worry about the quality of the songs, or whether people will actually like the tracks. For that, Harron deserves kudos.

I was surprised to see so many famous actors making an appearance, then again, Christian Bale overshadows all of them, so it's quite normal their performances faded from memory. Bale is absolutely perfect as the slick, sleazy, and cocky Bateman, whose mental stability is slowly slipping throughout the film. A role of a lifetime, except that he has several of them. With actors like Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Chloe Sevigny, and Justin Theroux, the secondary cast is pretty well fleshed out too, even though you'll probably be hard-pressed to remember their characters for very long.

screen capture of American Psycho

The shift in Bateman's character (from well-composed to raving lunatic) isn't the most original one, but very few films dare to transform their lead character from one type of particular asshole into a completely different type of asshole. Bateman's character has absolutely no redeeming qualities, except that he's an absolute hoot to watch from start to finish. The finale did feel a tad lazy, but I definitely wouldn't call it a total cop-out. It makes Bale a little bit more pitiful, even when at no point in the film does he deserve our sympathy.

Even though American Psycho is starting to show its age, the relevance of the character study and the unapologetic portrayal of the lead make sure the film stands out even today. How much is taken directly from the book is beside the point, it's Harron's unflinching direction that determines the film's lasting quality. The performance of Bale is stellar, the pacing and characterization are on point and the dark comedy is razor sharp, though I'm certain it won't be for everybody. It's a film that was able to stand the test of time, so well recommended for those who never got a chance to watch it.