by Ed Owens
"I'm not really hungry, I just want to have a
the above line isn't spoken by the narrator, it is indicative of the
prevailing attitude shared by most of the twenty-something males at
the story's center, none of them embodying that principle more than
Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street power broker with an insatiable appetite
for bloodletting. The film, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis,
chronicles Bateman's adventures over the course of several weeks, but
more than that, brutally satirizes American culture.
From the very beginning, the movie stakes its
claim in a beautifully directed credit sequence that clearly and concisely
establishes the film's premise. The tone set in the first minute or
so is carried almost throughout (see my objections below) and even raised
a notch as the movie continues. We learn about Bateman less through
a cohesive narrative than through a series of vignettes to which we
are (secretly) privy. There are so many negatives to Bateman's character
- greedy, misogynistic, brutal, petty - that it is a wonder we are drawn
to him at all.
Director Mary Harron follows Ellis' lead in not
looking for reasons for Bateman's dementia (in fact, our current tendency
to look for behavioral causes is nicely spoofed in an early scene),
content instead to present Bateman as simply being. This makes Bateman's
actions more disturbing because we can't explain them, can't justify
them by pointing to an easily categorized social cause and effect -
in Bateman's own words, "There is no catharsis."
adaptation is more of a distillation, keeping the essence of the novel
while changing the details to reflect both the change in medium and
the current climate. Images tell us as much (if not more) about the
characters as the characters themselves - an early shot of Bateman and
his fiancee in a cab puts Bateman behind a pane of frosted glass, leaving
him out of focus while everyone else is sharply detailed. There are
very few bad choices by Harron on display here, giving us instead a
tightly directed and extremely well-crafted film.
Bale is also spot on. Based on the strength of
his performance, it's hard to believe there was ever a time when he
wasn't the number one choice (Leonardo Di Caprio had expressed an interest
at one point...I shudder to think). His delivery and nuance are exacting
of the character, more of a caricature really, but one that is perfectly
suited for the material. And yet, he manages to give off the subtlest
vulnerability beneath his smug and arrogant demeanor. Even difficult
shifts in character, such as when Bateman agonizes over whether or not
to kill a coworker, are deftly handled. In fact, it is Bale's performance
that holds the film together through its difficult transition late in
the third act.
As Bateman descends deeper and deeper into his
psychosis, the movie becomes more and more fantastic. What Harron fails
to do (with the exception of one truly inspired moment involving a cleaning
woman) is maintain the tongue in cheek tone that has dominated the rest
of the film. The loss of that tone is somewhat jarring, and keeps the
movie from completely coalescing as it should have.
bigger problem is how the film compares to the book. I make it a point
never to compare versions across media, instead preferring to give each
the benefit of the doubt. In this case, however, I found the comparison
to be unavoidable. Much has been written of American Psycho's
checkered production history, but the most damning blow is in the unwillingness
of companies to allow their products to be associated with the project.
Ellis' novel, which is unquestionably a satire, succeeds for the most
part because of the unabashed name dropping and product placement which
fills its pages, becoming as much a product of consumer culture as it
is a satire of it. The film lacks that edge, having to fabricate most
of its few brand-name plugs. The result is the removal of a crucial
Yet, even that loss seems somewhat small compared
to the movie's ambitions, many of which it successfully achieves. American
Psycho is certainly not for everyone, but it is definitely a finely
crafted film worth viewing.