Admittedly, I never read the controversial novel. Frankly, I detested Bret Easton Ellis’ previous works and was reticent to read American Psycho just because of the hoopla. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t read the book, too. Ignorant of the story beyond the knowledge that the lead character is a serial killer, I was able to watch the film on its own terms without any pre-conceived notions.
Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a highly successful 27-year-old Wall Streeter, whose shallow world revolves around getting a good table at the hippest restaurants, club-hopping at the swankest danceterias, snorting blow, and having sex with a string of women, including his best friend’s girlfriend played by Samantha Mathis, prostitutes, old schoolmates and even his own girlfriend played by Reese Witherspoon. I guess he responds to all the shameless materialism and artificiality by becoming a murderer, rapist and torturer of everyone from rival Paul Allen (Jared Leto) to homeless guys to streetwalkers. Not exactly an easy job for an FBI profiler, which may explain why Willem Dafoe is so utterly useless in this movie as the detective investigating the disappearance of Paul Allen.
There isn’t much of a story, but it can be a thoroughly entertaining ride. The film is brilliantly acted, with a stalwart performance from Christian Bale in the lead. Director Mary Harron, who also adapted the novel with Go Fish’s Guinevere Turner, never deviates from her vision, re-constructing elaborately late-‘80s Manhattan and the world of filthy lucre, albeit slightly askew. She also injects the film with a very sly, subtle satiric edge that’s particularly effective when the psycho sings the praises of the decade’s milquetoast pop music. The music--both John Cale’s score and the period music--is exceptional.
Unfortunately, even as funny, thrilling and engaging as American Psycho can be, the film illuminates nothing new about serial killers, misogyny, psycho-sexual dysfunction or the 1980s. Nor is it particularly shocking or disturbing. It just is, and, in this case, that isn’t bad.