October 27, 2005

AMERICAN PSYCHO (18)

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Dir. Mary Harron

For those worried about my review trend, I promise this only happens to be because I bought this recently and not because I fetishise serial killers, okay? Good. I also happen to appreciate very dark movies – much like the excellent American Psycho.

The film American Psycho happens to be based on a rather good, if extraordinarily macabre, novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The novel has been stripped down to its bare essentials and is now a lean, dark social satire with a bit of slasher horror thrown in. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a mild, intelligent, charming, hard working, amiable and rich young banker working on Wall Street. He's also a murderous psychopath, who kills call girls and homeless men for no apparent reason. The film charts his degeneration from savvy banker into maniac, and is all the more powerful for its denouement that pretty much emphasizes the entire message of the film – if I told you, it wouldn't be as amusing and flabbergasting as it turns out to be. It's not a twist as such, more just a deeply surprising way of concluding a movie where the ending would otherwise be astonishingly predictable.

With all due credit to the director and writers, the tone is dark and comical with an acidic edge and kept at a decent 98 minutes which makes the film snappy and fast-moving. Unlike the book, where it occasionally goes to town on the detail and gore, the film is conservative about blood being spilled – there is claret to be seen here, but compared to the book it really is nothing in terms of quantity – and draws an interesting contrast between Bateman by day as banker, and by night as murderous lunatic in underwear wielding his chainsaw around. The best shots in AP are the subtle yet shocking ones; a casual conversation reveals Bateman opening his fridge to retrieve some wine, only for the audience to see a severed head in a plastic bag inside he obtained from a woman he met earlier. No violent strings, no screams…just the shot, Bateman talking, and the door closing. Shots like this make the film as blackly comical as it is.

Christian Bale excels himself, the pure embodiment of smirking charm and arrogance and beautifully portrayed narcicissm. He is, essentially, everything you'd expect Patrick Bateman to be. He is well supported too; Reese Witherspoon is delightfully vacuous as Bateman's fiancee, Evelyn, and Chloe Sevigny is nicely understated as Bateman's sweet and bashful secretary. Willem Dafoe does nicely too, although he doesn't really have much to work with – only being in two or so scenes.

The dialogue is great ("I just…had to kill a hell of a lot of people!!") and when a film is as well acted as this, you have a great film resulting. If I have any criticisms, it is that Bateman's degeneration in mental state seems almost too quick, but it is marginally better than the constant bloodletting of the novel. It also lacks some of the more vividly satirical moments of the novel, something that would have worked well in the film, but to be honest you couldn't include the whole book in the film – The result would just be unwatchable.

Mary Harron has done a great job, creating a magnificent villain for the modern era, and the fact the film remains unflinching and makes no attempt at moral judgement makes the film that much more powerful.


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