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American Psycho Review

By Joe Lozito

Murder in the Worst

In bringing Bret Easton Ellis' ultra-violent novel of mid-eighties power brokers to the screen, director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) has been asked to do the impossible: to film a novel known only for its extreme violence (let's face it, no one is calling this book great literature) in a forum which doesn't allow that violence to be shown.

Ms. Harron succeeds on one level by assembling a cast of almost identical looking actors to play the businessmen, which underscores one of the film's themes: the loss of identity as well as humanity. These are men that are defined by who can get last minute reservations at the finest restaurants. These are men that have business card-envy.

Christian Bale undertakes the unenviable leading role of Patrick Bateman - sort of a modern day Jekyll/Hyde without the chemicals. Bateman knows exactly what tie to wear, exactly what drink to order and exactly what music to like. Through the course of the film it becomes clear that Bateman's money and power have served only to make him hollow and unfeeling to the point that he must inflict his own pain on all those around him - particularly women. Though he has power in the world of his business, he is still nothing; he still has no real influence or respect. While the script doesn't give Mr. Bale much to work with, he does manage to hold his own until his character evolves from the calm monotone of Rod Serling to the frenetic antics of Jim Carrey.

The real shame about "Psycho" is that there are glimmers of the very smart satire that could've been. In particular a scene with Chloe Sevigny, as Bateman's wishy-washy secretary, draws parallels between the very real brutality of Bateman's character and the dangers of relationships. Also unfortunate is a three-way sex scene which draws obvious comparisons to "A Clockwork Orange", a film which did the anti-hero/ultra-violence thing correctly.

I suppose watching the adaptation was liberating in a way. I always suspected that Mr. Ellis' book would never have been popular without the ultra-violence. Unfortunately, the film has the feeling of a joke that you're not in on and it makes you want to read the novel to see what everyone is laughing about. The script is faithful to the novel only in its namedropping and there is an over-riding sense that some major element is missing. Of course, this is true. Without the violent passages from the book, the film has the feeling of making its point with repetitive scenes of hollow male bonding and ludicrous female exploitation. It becomes a story with no one to root for.

If the filmmakers think that an ending disclaimer - which basically states that nothing in the film is supposed to mean anything - will forgive the film for lacking a likeable protagonist and an interesting story arc, then they're the ones that are crazy.

What did you think?

Movie title American Psycho
Release year 2000
MPAA Rating NC-17
Our rating
Summary Mary Harron's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' tale of emptiness in America offers definitive proof that, without the controversy, it's really not much of a story.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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