LIONS GATE FILMS (2000)

Director: Mary Harron

Starring: Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Willem Dafoe, Josh Lucas, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux

Adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel of the same name, American Psycho is a sharp snapshot of 80s excess blended with the inside dwellings of a lunatic. However, as the book is a swollen, violent and graphic first person account, the movie becomes a hot mess with a jagged frame, with large spikes of cutting humour and perverse enthrallment throughout.

 

Like the novel, the film goes to certain lengths to show that it hasn’t really got a plot – as Willem Dafoe’s detective Kimball prods and pokes at finding Allen’s assailant, he then seems to disappear. Nothing is made of the affairs so pointedly shown through the movie, and the ambiguity of the ending isn’t to be found surprising really.​

To start, Christian Bale is mesmerizing as the suave, confident yet sinister Bateman. His effortless charm shine through, and his cold killer instincts wed perfectly with the characters double edged personality.

The movie does a good job of exaggerating the excesses of the 80’s movers and shakers, and provides a fittingly high class lifestyle where the only competition is to be found in tailoring, business cards and restaurant reservations. One of the film's best jokes is how these preening chaps often fail to distinguish one another, as their pursuit of perfection and one-upmanship leads them to, in fact, all look the same.

The majority of the horror is kept in the background for the initial two acts of the movie, rather showing us lude sexual acts and Bateman’s proclivity for pornography, and the voice over of Bateman lets us into his strange and blurred world. The initial murder of the homeless man is shocking for its coldness and brutality in the face of little emotion from Bateman, before later launching into full Huey Lewis backed axe madness in one of the movie’s standout scenes. It’s not until the movie’s bizarre final act do we see the (potential) extent of Bateman’s hobby.

The third act is bizarre as it is enjoyable as it is frenetic - however, the film’s conclusion leaves an openness that slightly demeans what has been before. A clever ambiguity, but a frustrating one nonetheless – and comments from screenwriters, fan theories etc. since haven’t paved a clearer understanding. Dreams? Fantasies? Is Bateman a tragic character who will never receive penalty in this material world?

As a movie experience, American Psycho feels like a disjointed affair. Whilst it is a good movie, with some great black comedy splattered throughout, without a cohesive narrative and with its open ending, it feels incomplete somehow, as if Harron ran out of ideas from the novel (which spends chapters detailing Bateman’s apartment, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ran out of patience). I love an ambiguous ending, however this seems to only confuse what went before. Was it all a dream? Some of it? None of it? I believe Bateman is a loony and did commit some of the murders – some I think can’t be explained away, but it would have been nice for a small bit of closure. In between the pathless exposition were some good moments here, and the image of a crazed Bateman, face half splattered in blood (split personality sign?) is enduring. Overall, it’s pretty good watch.

October 12th 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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