Thoughts on: American Psycho (Film)

Just like the novel before it, American Psycho (2000) wasn’t that well received on release. Sure, there were those who loved it, but by and large reviews were mixed with many just not “getting it”. But also like the novel, the film also experienced a turnaround in public opinion. So much so, that Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s satirical slasher is now considered a cult classic.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

Narrative

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Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?

For those of you who don’t know, American Psycho is set in late eighties New York, and follows the day-to-day life of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a wealthy Wall Street investor with self-proclaimed “moviestar good looks”. But despite his unassuming yuppie demeanour, Bateman is actually one of New York’s deadliest predators.

That’s the narrative in a nutshell, and to be honest it’s more of a character study and a comment on modern society, rather than some grand, life-affirming tale. And for what this film is trying to achieve, it works. It also makes good use of the ambiguous ending, leaving us wondering whether Bateman is a crazy, murderous psychopath after all.

The script, too, excellently manages to maintain the source material’s witty, dry humour. In fact, if it wasn’t for the script and it’s expertly choreographed screenplay, the film would lose almost all of its appeal.

For your amusement, here are some of the my favourite lines:

  • Bateman: “I like to dissect girls. Do you know I’m utterly insane?”
  •  Girl in club:”And what do you do?” Bateman: “Oh, I’m into murders and executions, mostly.”
  • ATM: “Feed me a stray cat…”

Direction

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this film is a straight up slasher flick. In reality, though, it’s actually one of cinema’s best black comedies. This is mostly down writers Harron and Guinever Turner’s fantastic job ensuring that the book’s darkly humorous tone and feel shines throughout. It’s not exactly subtle, but it is undeniably entertaining.

If there’s one downside, though, it’s that you are reminded of the film’s small budget from from time to time. This wouldn’t matter if there was nothing grand of Hollywoody going on; but during the final act where Bateman goes on an all-out rampage through Manhattan, it seems like there should be more cop cars, more police, more people running scared. But this is my only quibble, it’s not really anything that harms the overall quality of the movie.

And for those who say it’s too violent? It’s a Disney flick compared to the novel.

Characters

The only real character in the film is our protagonist Bateman, and in that regard it stays true to the novel, where everyone else is made to see uniform and unremarkable. The character in itself is wonderfully imagined and written, but it’s Bale’s intense performance which really propels it into the stratosphere. Whether it’s his transition from calm and composed to feral and barbaric, or his manic breakdown towards the end, there isn’t a note Bale doesn’t hit.

Having said that, do I hear your British accent coming through there, mate?

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In a few words…

Sorry, no time to sum up, I’ve gotta return some videotapes…

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