Sunday, 9 November 2014

Movie Review: American Psycho (2000)


An edgy societal satire, American Psycho takes a cold look at the destructive impacts of an insular culture dominated by avarice and egotism. Laced with cynicism and sly humour, the film creates a surreal world where twisted extremes are the jaded normal in damaged minds.

It's the late 1980s in Manhattan, and the me decade has transformed a generation of young men into soulless, greedy, narcissistic and shallow coke-snorting machines. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is an investment banker at a mergers and acquisitions firm, one of many vice presidents interchangeable to the point that their own superiors cannot tell them apart. The VPs compete with each other by boasting about the most arcane details of their business cards.

Patrick lives in a spotless apartment, hangs out at the trendiest restaurants and clubs, goes out with his fiancee Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), and murders people for sport. He has slipped from detached to purely psychotic, killing for the thrill because nothing else excites him. His victims include a homeless man and a conceited banker called Paul Allen (Jared Leto). Detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) starts to investigate the Allen murder and suspects Patrick of hiding something. Meanwhile, Patrick enjoys a threesome with two prostitutes before turning violent and bruising them both. His assistant Jean (Chloë Sevigny) knows nothing of Patrick's violent tendencies and seems to have a crush on him; he takes her out on a date, and her life hangs in the balance. With Kimball closing in, Patrick's carefully protected secret life threatens to break into the open and out of control.

American Psycho shocks with its detached violence and sex, human emotions truncated to nothingness within the cold soul of a man reduced to the equivalent of roboticism. When Patrick is engaged in sex he is focussed only on admiring his own image in the mirror, and he sets the mood for murder by boasting about his music knowledge, relaying canned commentary about the likes of Huey Lewis and the News and Peter Gabriel. In short Patrick cares for nothing and no one, but is fully obsessed with himself. It's a chilling vision of psychosis, and the frostiness permeates every aspect of the film.

Director Mary Harron creates a sanitized aesthetic where the men look alike, sound the same, dress in the similar clothes and are generally indistinguishable from each other. It's an environment where everyone is rich and there are no individuals. Patrick's quest to carve out an identity and find genuine feelings leads him to the darkest corners of his damaged brain, where threesomes with prostitutes and the casual murder of the poor and the rich, men and women, acquaintances and strangers are the only remaining acts that promise satisfaction.

American Psycho benefits from the cool vibe of the pervasive aloofness and also suffers from it. When nothing matters to Patrick or his colleagues, it's difficult to care for any of them, whether through irony or genuine empathy. Harron and her co-writer Guinevere Turner also leave large voids where Patrick's work resides. A highly-paid vice president must do something worthwhile other than ogle his assistant for a living; the film misses the opportunity to colour in the soul-sucking world where deals are plenty, the money flows and it all means nothing.

Christian Bale delivers a forceful performance, alternating between laid back and murderous, the dichotomy of tidy relaxation and bloody violence creating the chasm sucking Patrick's life into the abyss. The supporting cast members are adequate but not memorable, Willem Dafoe particularly suffering from an underwritten role.

American Psycho delivers its message of lost souls seeking solace in serpentine surroundings with frigid efficiency. The emotionless brutality is effective, but also creates a film that can be admired from afar but hardly embraced.






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