The Action Mutant…
loves Patrick’s uncle Bill’s Bistros.
review by Joe Burrows
It somewhat amazes me that it took so long for some people to get the point of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel American Psycho. Then again, it really doesn’t surprise me. I mean, all of the evidence of excess on top of excess (the calling card of the “decadent decade”) is staring the reader right in the face in the form of Bateman, a character that’s so real yet blazingly over the top in nature. So, how does everyone take the satire of a time that happened not too long ago at all? Well, critics take the extreme violence of the story VERY seriously and that (of course) is all that anyone can seem to focus on. On top of that sundae is the fact that the unspeakable acts of violence mainly happen toward women, which sent every liberal and feminist falling over themselves with misguided rage. Never mind the fact that the men are portrayed as successful, present day Neanderthals with block-like cell phones & mousse covered hair. While I’ll admit that the torture in AP’s novel form is a mix of Caligula & Friday the 13th and even makes me a tad uneasy, the point was (of course) totally lost on everyone. Simon & Schuster (the novel’s original publisher) dumped the book due to its content and it was eventually released by Vintage Books, selling 250,000 copies its first year on shelves. Life went on. People killed other people, whether it had anything to do with the book or not & regardless of gender. And the highest rated shows on MTV, E! & VH1 have to do with celebrities and their opulent lifestyles, which distracts people from the real problems of the world. Yeah. Seventeen years later and how little shit has changed, eh? (Note: This is a review of the 101 minute, Uncut version, as opposed to the R rated version that is 18 seconds shorter in duration.)
The Plot, as it was:
Christian Bale (3:10 to Yuma, The Dark Knight) is Patrick Bateman, a stock broker living the high life in 1987 Manhattan. He has a nubile, vapid fiancée (Reese Witherspoon), a serpentine, high-rise apartment and the latest in facial care products and pop music CDs. However, Patrick seems to lack certain things (such as a soul…oh, and the best business card amongst his co-workers) and these minute inanities aid in his outside-of-work hobby…serial killing! After offing company upstart Paul Allen (Jared Leto), Bateman is intermittently questioned by detective Donald Kimball (Wilem Dafoe) and starts to lose his grip on the homicidal world he’s drudged up. The question isn’t whether Patrick will stop killing (or be stopped) but…does anyone care?
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Much like the book, the movie American Psycho is a hard piece of satire to really nail down. However, director/writer Mary Harron (The Notorious Bettie Page) & co-writer Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) did the impossible (according to many, since the majority of the novel is practically unfilmable due to its violent content) and not only made the film but retained the dark, cynical mood of the book without going overboard with said carnage. Open minds will see a seriously (albeit sardonic) funny film that skewers the 80s pop culture landscape (Bateman explaining the work of musical acts from Huey Lewis & The News to Whitney Houston is tearfully hilarious) without being pretentious about it. All of the 80s trappings are here (greed, cocaine in the restrooms, inflated self-importance, etc.) and all of the little digs at the era make it just that much better. The hotly discussed violence is handled smartly, with much of it being implied but coming off more gruesome due to the moody vibe it’s juxtaposed to. Everyone plays their parts commendably but Bale is the show, the whole show and nothing but the show here. The term “career making performance” is usually tossed around liberally but Bale goes so balls out with his portrayal of Bateman that it’s almost impossible any other performance could reach it in scale. In Bale’s capable hands, Bateman is neurotic, comically repulsive, hilariously vain and doubly disturbed, all without falling into characterature. His mood swings are so abrupt and chillingly sudden that it really takes the viewer for a great ride. One minute, Patrick’s swinging an axe at someone’s face and a few shots later, he’s listening to Chris De Burgh’s “Lady in Red” without a care in the world! His descent into madness is certain to cause some furrowed brows and confusion but those that truly follow the film’s satire tinged heart will appreciate an ambiguous ending that resembles the great films of the 70s. In other words, American Psycho is an underrated, underappreciated classic and that is apropos, considering how misunderstood the material was (and seemingly, will always be).
Body Count/Violence: 17. As stated previously, the book version of AP COULD NOT be filmed as is. Its grotesque visions of torture and sadism would have most likely earned it a high NC-17, if not higher (not to mention the book’s 384 page duration, as I couldn’t imagine too many people taking 3+ hours of blood & guts). As is, the film version is no where near as violent but does include its fair share of moments. Patrick wastes people in a number of fashions, whether it is shooting, stabbing, an ax to the face or a (very memorable) use of a chainsaw. Several bloody, after-the-fact corpses, an already severed head and a stomped down dog are also included but it’s interesting to state that the impact of most of these acts is rarely shown, leaving only the gory aftereffects and the audience’s imagination to fill stuff in.
Sexuality/Nudity: Oddly enough, it’s the film’s sexual content that almost caused it to be rated NC-17 originally. Patrick’s a kinky boy and it shows, with him watching a porno with two topless ladies going at each other. Bale’s sculpted abs and posterior are on showcase in many shots. There’s also a scene of two other women rubbing & kissing each other and three other sex scenes, though the one with Patrick essentially directing two call girls in filmed sex is more hilarious than erotic. Cara Seymour (Christie, the blond call girl) is nude in a bathtub and is nude (along with Bale & Krista Sutton) in the filmed three way. And who can forget a naked Bateman, chasing a victim down and having his crotch only obscured with a running chainsaw? Subtle? No. Glorious? Yes.
Fairly strong & frankly sexual in some dialogue. Oh, and people get angry if you interrupt them while they snort coke. Who wouldn’t?
How bad was it?:
Most critics heaped a great deal of praise towards the director and star of tackling such a combustible project and making it a masterwork. There were a few squeaky wheels that either felt it wasn’t controversial enough in being more faithful to the book’s content or was just too mean spirited to enjoy it. Once again, critics misinterpret good satire (which I’m sure is why Burt Reynolds’ career dried up in the 80s).
Did it make the studio’s day?:
After many years of false starts, directorial changes and casting shifts (you know, even after The Departed, I still couldn’t buy Leo DiCaprio as Patrick Bateman), Lions Gate Films produced American Psycho for $7 million and released it on 4/14/00. It turned in a respectful 7th place rake of $5 million its first weekend and despite it falling out of the top 10 the following week, it had enough juice to stay in theaters for another three months. American Psycho was a sleeper hit, grossing $15.1 million (and $19.2 million overseas, equaling $34.3 million worldwide) and becoming a solid hit on DVD.
Entertainment value: *****/*****
Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.