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American Psycho
2000 - R - 104 Mins.
Director: Mary Harron
Producer: Edward R. Pressman
Written By: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Starring: Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Chloe Sevigny, Josh Lucas, Willem Dafoe
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   
Spoilers! In the movie ‘Monster,’ a film about America’s first female serial killer, writer/director Patty Jenkins carefully balanced the portrayal of Aileen Wuornos as feminist poster woman versus being criminally insane. We’re not supposed to believe that her childhood of abuse justified nor explained her murderous rampage but we clearly see a life of tragedy that erupted into murder and mayhem.

With ‘Monster’ in mind, it’s interesting to look back at the 2000 film ‘American Psycho’ which was based on the controversial book by Bret Easton Ellis but screenplay by feminist writer/director Mary Harron who described her film in very similiar terms as Patty Jenkins. ‘American Psycho’ is plot less, but it follows the escapades of 1980s yuppie stockbroker Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) who was the first onscreen metrosexual with a fussy, detailed daily grooming routine, narcissistic exercise regimen, an eye for good real estate and an appetite for violent porn and good restaurants. He also happens to be a serial killer.

The world of ‘American Psycho’ is populated with a talented indie cast. Harron’s protagonist, Patrick Bateman (Bale) is a yuppie serial killer who’s abusive to his girlfriend Eveyln (Reese Witherspoon), to his mistress Courtney (Samantha Mathis) and to his secretary Jean (Chloe Sevigny). Josh Lucas and Willem Dafoe round off this great ensemble. While Bateman takes his peevishness out on his friends and lovers, he drugs, rapes and tortures various women until he surprises even himself with the body count.

As a black comedy, ‘American Psycho’ is good for an amusing 1980s nostalgia trip (You won't be able to listen to Sussudio again without thinking of *the* sex scene) but it does bear pause for an intelligent audience to stop and think about what they’re laughing at. A ridiculous satire of the greedy 1980s that bore 'Wall Street'? Or, as Harron proposed, a feminist laugh at an extreme example of masculinity gone amok? This movie ignited Christian Bale’s career as he transformed himself from British actor to a nasty buff caricature of a testosterone-enriched alpha-male. Part of Bale’s transformation was a new set of teeth and in some scenes, the new choppers look a too big for his mouth, reminding me of Matt Dillon’s character in ‘There’s Something About Mary’ when he had his teeth capped to be larger or Jim Carrey’s teeth in ‘The Mask.’

But in retrospect, Bateman is the most shallow of characters, not a flesh and blood human being – think about Edward Norton in ‘American History X’ or Ryan Gosling in ‘The Believer’ - those portrayals were very real people. Bale seems only concerned with the physical transformation but the script doesn’t provide a clue as to what makes Bateman tick. We’re given little to understand. Fine, a filmmaker doesn’t’ have to make his/her characters sympathetic or logical, but from an audience’s point of view, the message is more effective if there’s some common ground or basis to connect to. It makes Patty Jenkin’s accomplishment with ‘Monster’ all the more impressive.

The biggest disappointment is the ending of ‘American Psycho,’ which is confusing and oblique. Did the murders really happen? If not, this feint wasn’t executed very gracefully. But Harron herself has insisted that the murders did happen – she pointed to the end of ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ as a clue to the ending of her film – the murderer gets away with murder. This leaves ‘American Psycho’ as a one-dimensional in-joke; an odd duck of a film – not particularly bloody or gory enough to be a horror/slasher movie, not funny enough to be a full-blown black comedy, and, thinking of ‘Monster,’ lacking the drama to explain anyone's motives, alibis or feminist posturing.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

 
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