American Psycho was a controversial and hugely successful book by Brett Easton Ellis which was finally made into a film in 2000. It tells the tale of a twenty six year old Wall Street worker who is rich, handsome, youthful and charming on the surface at least, lurking beneath this veneer is an intense psychopath who is unable to control his increasingly dark and twisted impulses.
Patrick Bateman lives in the world of the super rich and fashion conscious, he is positively obsessed with designer clothing, the hottest restaurants and his own appearance. He has a large circle of friends, earns a massive amount of money, has a girlfriend and a mistress and is ostensibly the picture of success in the 1980´s. The problem is that he feels the need to violently murder people, his facade is a complete creation, his emotion and affection are not heart felt and beneath the surface he fights to contain a bitter and bleak fantasy world. The image he projects is carefully constructed but he lacks a soul.
The film is quite closely based on the book, mixing and condensing the source material to great effect. Mary Harron is credited with the screenplay and she also directs the film. While her direction isn´t spectacular she does structure the narrative perfectly and pace things very skilfully and she definitely captures the essence of the book in the hour and forty minutes that the film runs for.
The star of the show here is undoubtedly Christian Bale who plays the egomaniac killer Bateman. It is bizarre to consider that Leonardo Di Caprio was up for the role and that Ed Norton turned it down simply because it is impossible to imagine anyone other than Bale playing the part. He is absolutely perfect in delivery and appearance and without him the film would not have worked. The rest of the cast is also excellent, Justin Theroux plays Bateman´s friend Timothy Bryce, a character who almost manages to match his companion´s cynicism and bitterness. Chloe Sevigny plays his secretary Jean, Reese Witherspoon plays his girlfriend and amongst others Willem Dafoe pops up as the investigator Donald Kimball.
Patrick Bateman narrates the action giving us an insight into his peculiar mind. His opulent lifestyle and the ease of his success have swollen his ego to massive proportions (by hight). At times he kills spontaneously and opportunistically, occasionally he prepares and has a specific target in mind. As well as his love of fine suits and expensive foods, his passion for Huey Lewis and the News, he also harbours a love of porn and torture and a frighteningly inquisitive approach to the bounds of human suffering. The murders are horrendous but mercifully stop well short of the excesses of the book. They provide little interludes for Bateman from his cycle of routine, his pursuit of physical perfection, accumulation of status and hedonistic social life. As time progresses the interludes become his life and everything else fades in importance.
Despite the graphic violence and disturbing actions of Bateman this isn´t played as a serious film, rather it is an extremely black comedy. It is unclear to what extent Bateman´s actions are real as we veer between fantasy and reality within his crumbling consciousness. It is deeply satirical, parodying the excesses of a certain lifestyle, the lack of depth and meaning in modern popular culture and ultimately the death of the soul. While it is by turns disturbing and harrowing it is also very funny.
Patrick Bateman is a fantastic character, a modern monster and Bale really brings him to life in all his hideous glory. The film crosses many genres with elements of comedy, horror, thriller, crime and drama all apparent. American Psycho will undoubtedly offend some people, especially those who insist on taking it seriously, but that´s the nature of a caricatured satire. My own impression as a fan of the book is that the film is beautifully made and acted, thrillingly entertaining throughout and should not be missed.