American Psycho (Mary Herron, 2000)
[originally posted 27Mar2001]
Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho is the nadir of eighties fiction; it reads, roughly, like a three hundred page Sharper Image catalog, an endless listing of brand names and prices with nothing even remotely resembling a soul. When the film was released, the critics quickly came to the same conclusion about it. After a few months, however, better reviews of the film began to surface from independent critics and the like, calling it a brilliant satire, wickedly funny, you know, that sort of thing. So I had to rent it. My constant repeating thought was “it can’t be as bad as the book.”
I was right. That’s not saying much.
Christian Bale (who’s going to be typecast as a sleazebag if he doesn’t watch out) plays Patrick Bateman, a man whose obsession with fitting in to the fast-moving upperclass Wall Street society of his father manifests itself both as an obsession with the brand names of the things he utilizes in his daily routine and as an unstoppable compulsion to murder.
Herron, who’s certainly no stranger to ultraviolence (she’s directed episodes of Homicide and Oz, as well as the cult hit I Shot Andy Warhol), does manage to capture a certain beauty to Bateman’s homicidal rage; there’s a particular scene where Bateman is chasing a prostitute (Cara Seymour) down a hallway with a chainsaw that’s almost hypnotic. Where the movie fails is in the spaces between. It’s almost as if Ellis wrote the novel on a bet—”can you take a perfectly shallow character and center a whole book around him?”. The result, in both book and film, is painfully obvious; it can be done, but it’s not that much fun to experience.
This makes it all the more painful that so many wonderful roles surface in this film, not least up-and-comer Chloe Sevigny as Bateman’s secretary, a woman who stands out as the true beauty in a shallow world of glamour; Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) as Paul Allen, a business partner of Bateman’s; Reese Witherspoon as Bateman’s oblivious, spoiled fiancee; and Willem Dafoe, as usual, taking a minor role (a homicide detective) and turning it into something palpably creepy.
When all is said and done, there’s just not enough good here to counteract the horrid. * ½
Red band trailer.