PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: "American Psycho"
by Ray Pride
At the world premiere of the NC-17 version of Mary
Harron's "American Psycho" (co-written by Guinevere
Turner, from Bret Easton Ellis' much-maligned novel),
the buzz is torqued to hornets' nest levels. The level
of tension is more rich with frustration from the
confluence of crowds pouring out of the earlier
premiere of another neo-New York tale, Stanley Tucci's
"Joe Gould's Secret," as from any anticipation of
being truly offended or enlightened.
Christian Bale is ivy-league serial killer Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron's "American Psycho".
Ellis' novels since "American Psycho" have reveled in
the labels of consumerist affluence, with brand names
dangling from sentences like toilet paper on the
bottom of a prig's shoe. Harron and Turner, with a
keen assist from the sleek, airy widescreen
compositions of cinematographer Andrzej Sekula and the
witty settings of production designer Gideon Ponte,
make this tic ever more obvious: still, repetition on
screen often has diminishing returns. Where the mind's
eye can take in even a train crash of rhetorical
effects while reading a novel, films usually flatten.
Mannerism may ensue.
It's 1987 Manhattan. Christian Bale plays the
deranged, reservations-coveting New York mergers and
acquisitions VP Patrick Bateman, working a sideline of
"murders and executions" against women who trouble his
cool surfaces and, notably, one of his brethren, Paul
Allen (Jared Leto). He's a sleek crumb, living in a
soulless apartment that is less home than a shuffling
of designer catalog pages. Bateman tells us "greed and
disgust" are the only emotions he feels: he gets no
joy in the contemplation of his blank, feral greed.
The intermittent voice-overs work less to implicate us
in his mania than to underscore his perpetual
Bateman's dreamt us up: his ideal audience who cannot
touch him or make him flinch. Bale is game, even in
moments where he's called to pull up notes from Jack
Nicholson's "Honey! I'm home!" adrenaline in "The
Shining." (With Wall Street wit, most of Bale's
intonations seem to channel and comment upon Charlie
Sheen's gravelly meow.)
Left to Righ, Bill Sage, Christian Bale, Justin Therous in "American Psycho".
The scene that the film's makers claim as the source
of the present NC-17 rating is a tumult of blunt
narcissism, as Bateman chooses to view himself pumping
and rutting in the mirror as he Tom Cruise-poses his
way through a three-way with a street prostitute and a
call girl. (Its prologue is scored to Phil Collins'
"Sussudio," one of the few effective uses one can
easily imagine of that putrid remnant of the 1980s.)
Much of the violence is left mysteriously off-screen,
elided as in a chilly Cronenbergian world.
While the frames are chilly and distilled, the content
is not, and at moments the tone falters. There's
bitter wit to hearing a woman's howls of horror, which
are revealed as Bateman's muzak for a power workout:
the soundtrack from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." But
there are diminishing returns when he's later charging
after a bloodied prostitute down an antiseptic
corridor, also bloodied and nude except for running
shoes and a roaring chainsaw thrusting rhythmically
from his midsection.
Still, the sea of cell phones and superfleece laughs
warmly in reaction to the cacophony of brand names,
with the introduction of the likes of Oliver Peoples
eyewear and Jean Paul Gaultier travel bags.
But the commercial impact with a larger audience may
only be that "Crash" with name-dropping; the headline
allegations of Canadian-financed perversion go down
well with coffee but Moviefone feels lonely tonight.
Best pitched for its drollery (and a biting song
score) than its moments of deep critical insight,
Lions Gate would be well advised to shuck the
advertisements that suggest arthouse-destined
Cronenberg-style piss-elegance and start printing up
the "Don't just stare at it, eat it!" t-shirts post-haste.