The thought of playing a serial killer must be fascinating to any actor, possessing the darkest of psyches to portray onscreen, you get to explore a truly complicated character. Previous portrayals have given audiences Hannibal Lecter, Buffalo Bill and Norman Bates. With American Psycho, the first-person account of a killer's dark fantasies play out on screen through a mix of black comedy and graphic violence.
The film introduces us to Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a rich, handsome, yet materialistic investment banker living in yuppie 80s New York. Bateman lives a life of excess, wealth, drugs and parties but beneath his charismatic exterior is a psychotic character with a fetish for blood and violence.
Directing duties for the film went to Mary Harron, who had previously directed I Shot Andy Warhol. The film was adapted for the screen by both Harron and Guinevere Turner.
With the film, the first thing to note is that the film has little if any plot. This would usually be a drawback, but American Psycho works as a pure character study and observation. We watch as Bateman goes about his materialistic life concealing his murderous desires. By the second act, his true self begins to break through his carefully constructed veneer until the film's third act when his mask of sanity falls.
As with its source material, the film is set in the stock market boom of the 80s. The look of the setting and fashions are largely described within the book. This represents the superficial nature of the characters, whose main concerns include what they wear and where they have dinner reservations.
The film does not aim to be an exact adaptation of Ellis's novel, but instead adopts the tone of its main players, with the film's ending suggesting that Bateman may in fact be an unreliable narrator. The film, like the book, has moments that suggest either Bateman's account is real or the misguided dillusions of an unstable mind. This gives the already entertaining film a different edge.
Music plays a large part in the novel and film. Bateman gives prolonged descriptions of his favourite music in chapters of the novel from Huey Lewis and the News to Whitney Houston. This is done in the film as Bateman toys with his prey before he strikes. The music selection emphasizes the context of 80s America. The music is also in complete contrast to the actions onscreen, creating juxtaposition and comedy, best seen when Bateman attacks Paul Allen with an axe as Hip to Be Square plays in the background.
The thing that will always overshadow the film is its graphic portrayal of violence. Harron has not shied away from Ellis's material and plays out Bateman's dark fantasies for audiences. The thing that takes the edge off the violence is that the film is equally funny. Black comedy, but very well done to soften the blow of its brutality.
The film was also heavily criticised on its release for its portrayal of women and the violence towards them. Many argue that the film is misogynistic and too graphic, but this is too glib a critique of the film. Yes, the bulk of the female characters are either escorts, girlfriends or mistresses. They are openly judged as sexual objects and purely on their looks, but does this alone make the film misogynistic? The film itself is not misogynistic, but it is set in a misogynistic world. It's not so much that women are potrayed badly, but finding a human character in the film is indeed a struggle.
A dark, edgy, black comedy not for the easily offended. Violent and brutal with an incredible central performance from Bale. The film has earned its status as a cult classic and stands as one of Bale's best performances.