Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #33
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: April 14, 2000
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $34,266,564
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Mary Harron
Screenplay: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Based on: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Producers: Christian Solomon, Chris Hanley, Edward R Pressman
Cinematography: Andrzej Sekula
Score: John Cale
Editing: Andrew Marcus
Studio: Edward R Pressman Film Corporation
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Stars: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Chloë Sevigny, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Justin Theroux, Matt Ross, Bill Sage, Cara Seymour, Guinevere Turner, Stephen Bogaert, Anthony Lemke, Krista Sutton, Catherine Black, Reese Witherspoon
Suggested Audio Candy
 John Cale “American Psycho”
 Huey Lewis & The News “Hip To Be Square”
Film has always been a subjective media and ultimately boils down to a matter of personal preference. However, show me a single living soul that doesn’t think American Psycho is a cinematic tour-de-force and I will gladly eat my business card right here, right now. The notion of anyone hating on Mary Harron’s modern masterpiece is simply ludicrous and one I struggle desperately to entertain for a solitary second. Moreover, in my opinion, Patrick Bateman is the most enigmatic character to grace the silver screen over the past thirty years and, again, I would argue this case to my grave and beyond. Fuck, I’d happily haunt his detractors for failing to spot such cinematic eminence and make their lives a living hell. I’d do it for you Patrick.
“Patrick? Patrick Bateman? Is that you?”
“No Luis; it’s not me. You’re mistaken.”
Christian Bale has never been better-suited to a part than he is in the titular role here. The young lad from Steven Spielberg’s celebrated war drama Empire of the Sun has long since been all grown up and this role was to be the one that shaped his future. Over the past two decades Bale has headlined some of the most prevalent franchises in recent history, most notably Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. A very astute piece of casting saw him donning that famed black mask and he predictably pulled off this treacherous task with considerable aplomb.
While he has endeared himself to cinephiles the world over, Bale has also courted enough controversy off-screen to bury most careers under a landslide of negative press and media-informed public opinion. I never concerned myself with Chinese whispers so he could engage in auto-erotic asphyxiation in his personal life and I still would not judge him. It is seemingly easier to arbitrate folk than to endeavor to comprehend them. As long as he continues making films we love then it shouldn’t matter a jot if he worships Satan or bites the heads off shrews in his downtime.
Bale is scarily well-suited to playing Patrick Bateman. Indeed I can muster no one other actor in the industry capable of bettering his turn. He effortlessly exhibits Bateman’s inner vitriol whilst appearing calm and unflustered in the precise same instance. I have struggled with OCD for as long as I can remember and our protagonist exhibits a disorder far more concentrated than simply checking the stove eight times in rapid succession. He does his morning squats with military precision and adheres to a rigorous and identical self-devised health protocol every day without exception. So meticulous is his regime that one fly in his ointment can make it nigh on impossible for Patrick to conceal that interior angst.
From the offset we, the appreciative audience, are cordially invited to witness said regime first hand. Christian has never struggled to get into the best physical condition for any role he has landed. I’m speculating that he didn’t need to undertake such a painstaking transformation here as he did in The Machinist; but like Daniel Day Lewis (another specialist at inhabiting the being he is portraying and similarly branded as awkward) he is the consummate professional and every bit the perfectionist that his character is.
Many devotees of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name fanatically believe this to be a pale imitation. I have to say that I find it exhausting listening to folk rattle on about how a movie doesn’t live up to its printed counterpart. A book provides you with the tools needed to clamber into the interior of a character’s consciousness whereas, in a fraction of the allotted time, an actor is required to make their audience aware of their innermost thoughts and motivations. It is preposterous to expect the same level of depth although a decent performance really can work wonders in hammering each point home without the need for over-exposition.
I have only ever read one book from cover to cover. This may be mild dyslexia although it has never actually been diagnosed but, akin to the manner in which a blind person develops an astute sense of hearing, I was gifted instead with the uncanny ability to read an individual purely by their actions and movements. Bale’s gift to us all as Bateman is truly magnanimous and he somehow manages to coax out a performance which is both congenial and, in the same moment, truly menacing. He is insecure while brimming with swagger; unflappable while peddling like a mallard under the surface. Moreover, American Psycho is far more than simply a facsimile of its source material.
Neurosis? Psychosis? Whichever way you label it he has the tools to afford insight into that twisted cortex and puts them to use with the pinpoint precision. It is truly a pleasure to be privy to. Harron’s film is as arrogant and unapologetic as its central protagonist; a sarcastic satire and, one feels, for Bale almost autobiographical with parallels between Bateman’s psychological make-up and his own persona. This gives him the most unique perspective from which to emulate the character he plays. Ellis wrote the character, but Bale lives him. He climbs inside that two-button Armani suit, tightens his conservative silk tie and for the next 102 minutes he simply is Patrick.
While he is assisted in no small part by numerous gifted performers sharing his screen space, make no qualms that this is his film. As Bateman he shows us a leading man in spiraling conflict with his own mentality; conforming to his egocentric side during the day whilst at night unleashing a far darker, more primal animal. When the brutality comes, and it’s more suggested than visualized, it catches us unawares. The raison d’être is that he normally commences with a lengthy monologue while preparing the eventual crime scene.
Patrick also has an anal fixation with eighties pop culture, in particular Phil Collins and Huey Lewis and the News, and recites trivia like a musical almanac as an entrée to the sadistic main platter. On one hand you will be laughing hysterically at his geeky analysis while, on the other, you are helping him prepare as he lays canvas so as not to spill any rouge on his lustrous condominium floor. The conflict in his psyche leads us to engage in one of our own, that being to chuckle or gasp in astonishment. I did both with regularity. This adaptation is so effective at forcing you to question your own innermost feelings and notions so long as interpreted correctly.
Another key character comes in the striking form of Hollywood pariah Chloë Sevigny. She was savagely cast aside after offering gratuitous on-screen fellatio to Vincent Gallo and The Brown Bunny appalled many with its graphic depiction of deep-throated deliverance. Sevigny is a marvellous actress (ex-model and fashion designer to boot) and she is wonderfully delicate as Jean, providing us with an exquisite counterbalance. The viewer is aware of the fact that she is the one person he cannot bring himself to terminate and her inclusion is one of great poignancy. It is during the pair’s shared scenes that we witness our sociopath at his most tender.
On the flip side, he is at his most jittery when jousting with his associates. Justin Theroux and his mob of made men taunt him with watermarked business cards and better situated condos with more illustrious vantages. Paul Allen (Jared Leto) is the ultimate irritant to Patrick and always stationed precisely where he wishes to be. During “a song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics” he finally gets the better of his agitator and the next 150 seconds are pure white gold. Hip To be Square proves the perfect accessory to cinematic history in the making.
High(ish) class hookers also feature significantly. “Not quite blonde are we? More of a dirty blonde” and “I don’t want to get you drunk, but ah, that’s a very fine Chardonnay you’re not drinking” are but two of his deadpan retorts and succeed in ensnaring these two scarlet strumpets in a Sussudio soaked sexual panorama which Bale takes to like a panther in a slaughterhouse. Not content with just being eminently quotable, Patrick Bateman also coaches us on how to look good mid-thrust and I assure you the bedroom mirror will be positioned differently for subsequent romps once this glorious scene has played out.
Another worthy inclusion is that of Willem Dafoe who possesses the ideal facial repertoire to play the role of smiling assassin. He has Grinch-like qualities and a set of gnashers like a varnished headboard. Fitting the bill of investigating agent impeccably; his vocal sparring sessions with Bateman are a joy to witness. Detective Donald Kimble comes across as sociable and like-minded while at the same time meddlesome. Patrick is wholly aware of the impending threat he poses and cautiously navigates his oral mine-field knowing one Freudian slip of the tongue could have devastating repercussions.
As our journey reaches its zenith we become every bit as paranoid as our leading man. His little white lies grow to be big black secrets and it becomes more difficult to suppress his bubbling emotions. Patrick becomes entangled in his own web of fabrication and eventually runs out of videotapes to return. As the net inevitably closes in around him; with it comes a sense of harassment which Bale conveys beautifully. Here comes that sucker punch. When it comes it’s a real kidney blow. Visibly winded and receding like a wounded animal with no remaining sanctuary, he is left exposed and susceptible to the most primal of instincts – fear. His imminent removal from society forces him to search a little deeper into a reality he hasn’t prepared for. I shall say no more.
I will say this though. American Psycho manages to blur the lines of empathetic responsibility within the viewer. Here is a quite repugnant character who demands we go easy on him and, as a result, we do so gladly. A hero to cherish; he is the anti-hero within us; a bona fide product of his environment. It was an easy decade for your identity to become lost in a society lacking in individuality and Patrick Bateman defends its merits with unflinching loyalty. Conformity is a prevalent theme throughout and the film’s ambiguity is perhaps its greatest asset. With that I bring to a close my appraisal of this pièce de résistance of modern cinema. In the words of the great man “I’m leaving. I’ve assessed the situation, and I’m going”.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Grue is not a pre-requisite for American Psycho but flashes of intense cruelty interpose the story with startling ferocity. One such scene involves Patrick condemning a kindly hobo to a swift sentence and, as you gasp for air, he proceeds to curb stomp the vagabond’s mutt. Then, as we frantically attempt to reclaim the remaining fragments of our shattered innocence, we are treated to another standout moment featuring a delightfully executed about-turn in the hotel’s revolving doors before placing a bullet into a sociable on-duty security guard as an afterthought.
The Eminently Quotable Patrick Bateman
Patrick Bateman is easily the most quotable character in living memory. Each word he callously utters is pure plutonium. Let us all bask in his cutting retorts. Stick with it to the end and you will be rewarded by the supple curves of Chloë Sevigny Grueheads. We all wanted to be Vincent Gallo, just for one long fucking moment.
Patrick Bateman: There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.
Patrick Bateman: That’s a very fine chardonnay you’re drinking. I want you to clean your vagina.
Patrick Bateman: I’m on a diet.
Jean: What, you’re kidding, right? You look great… so fit… and thin.
Patrick Bateman: Well, you can always be thinner… look better.
Jean: Then maybe we shouldn’t go out to dinner. I wouldn’t want you to lose your willpower.
Patrick Bateman: That’s okay. I’m not very good at controlling it anyway.
Patrick Bateman: I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?
Patrick Bateman: New York Matinee called it “a playful but mysterious little dish”.
Evelyn Williams: What about the past?
Patrick Bateman: We never really shared one.
Waiter: Would you like to hear today’s specials?
Patrick Bateman: Not if you want to keep your spleen.
Patrick Bateman: I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.
Patrick Bateman: You’re a fucking ugly bitch. I want to stab you to death, and then play around with your blood.
Patrick Bateman: Do you know what Ed Gein said about women?
David Van Patten: Ed Gein? The maitre’d at Canal Bar?
Patrick Bateman: No, serial killer, Wisconsin, the ’50s.
Craig McDermott: So what did he say?
Patrick Bateman: “When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things. One part wants me to take her out, talk to her, be real nice and sweet and treat her right.”
David Van Patten: And what did the other part think?
Patrick Bateman: “What her head would look like on a stick… “
Patrick Bateman: Do you like Phil Collins? I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that, I really didn’t understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on Duke where Phil Collins’ presence became more apparent. I think Invisible Touch was the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. Christy, take off your robe. Listen to the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. Sabrina, remove your dress. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Sabrina, why don’t you, uh, dance a little. Take the lyrics to Land of Confusion. In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. In Too Deep is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. The song is extremely uplifting. Their lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything I’ve heard in rock. Christy, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole. Phil Collins’ solo career seems to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying, in a narrower way. Especially songs like In the Air Tonight and Against All Odds. Sabrina, don’t just stare at it, eat it. But I also think Phil Collins works best within the confines of the group, than as a solo artist, and I stress the word artist. This is Sussudio, a great, great song, a personal favorite.
Patrick Bateman: [excusing himself from Detective Kimball] Listen, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a lunch meeting with Cliff Huxtable at the Four Seasons in 20 minutes.
Read Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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Excellent review Richard and love the fillm
I hate this film so much I can’t even comment properly …
This fascinates me as you are the first person I have heard you despises this and I love to hear others’ opinions when they differ from my own. One of the greatest gifts we have is our subjective viewpoint and I totally dig that we differ on this one. Forget the opening stanza, I won’t haunt you. Indeed, by the sound of it, you may haunt me for loving it so much.
I think this is the first time we have disagreed on a film and I’m banking on my love for The House of The Devil saving me from a dressing down. Funnily enough, the first time I watched American Psycho, I had no idea what to make of it as expectation played its hand and I was left wanting something that it didn’t deliver.
Since then it has become one of my all-time favorite films and I can watch it in a heartbeat if I fancy a dash of deadpan Bateman.
Thank you for your comment Amanda, it’s very much appreciated, and Patrick Bateman or no Patrick Bateman, we always have Hammer and Amicus.