Psycho is half of a brilliant movie, before it hacks itself to pieces during
the final reel.
Mary Harron’s menacing commentary on eighties yuppiedom gone horribly
awry is made all the more frightening by its accurate profile of Patrick Bateman
(Christian Bale, in a star-making turn), a Wall Street broker more interested in
murders and executions than mergers and acquisitions. Bateman’s value system
is so skewed that he places restaurant reservations and power ties over human
life on his twisted priority list. And while most brokers certainly don’t
knife transients with the casual cruelty of this soulless, satanic creep, there are
people out there who mirror Bateman’s addiction to designer name brands and
That’s the scariest thing of all.
“I have no single identifiable human emotions, except for greed and
disgust,” Bateman confesses in an early narrative. He’s not kidding.
movie opens at a decadent yuppie watering hole, where Bateman and a bunch of his
business cronies place dinner orders. With
their black trench coats and red power ties, these fresh-faced goons look like
gangster wannabes as they request “squid ravioli in lemongrass broth.”
But unlike Scorsese’s Goodfellas, who acted as fire and ice in a
dynamically volatile brew of different personalities, these guys really are
bland and interchangeable. In fact,
one of American Psycho’s funniest running gags is that people can’t
tell these Ken-doll businessmen apart: no one can keep all the names straight.
this is due to poor communication skills. When
Bateman announces to his upwardly mobile pals that he likes to dissect girls,
the would-be listeners are so egocentric than no one takes note.
Later, when this disturbed misogynist tell a female bartender, “I want
to stab you to death and play with your blood,” she hands him a drink without
batting an eye. In this
narcissistic world of cell phones, business cards, and stark-white apartment
lofts, everyone talks and nobody listens.
first half is an anthropological study of the eighties male psyche gone rotten,
and it’s fascinating. When a
Bateman voice-over narrates his morning preparation rituals, it’s a
gag-inducing list of obsessive-compulsive tasks that are completely and utterly
self-absorbed. “If I wake up and my face is at all puffy, I can apply and ice
pack while I do my curls,” he says, revealing such beauty secrets as deep-pore
honey almond scrub and an herb mint facemask. Later, he plays critiques Phil
Collins albums and admires his own buff reflection in the mirror while in flagrante with two less-than-thrilled prostitutes.
this overworked self-love acts as an effective contrast to the complete and
utter disrespect that Bateman has for the rest of the human race.
He screams at the Korean laundromat owners who can’t remove the
bloodstains from his bedsheets, and belittles a homeless man before offing him
in the matter-of-fact manner of a deckhand gutting a salmon. In American
Psycho’s best scene, the jealous Bateman blows a gasket when Paul Allen
(Jared Leto, of Prefontaine fame),
another young upstart at his sales firm, unveils a new business card that’s
fancier than his. “It’s printed
on eggshell white with cerulean type,” boasts the proud competitor, before
he’s axed to the tune of Huey Lewis’ “Hip to be Square.”
murder prompts visits from Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe), a private investigator
hired by Allen’s family to find the butchered broker.
“It’s strange – eerie – how someone could just disappear like
that,” laments Kimball during his first interrogation of Bateman. Dafoe’s
craggy face and patient, concerned manner, illustrate that a human presence has
landed on this island of indifference, and it’s a shocking contrast.
Meanwhile, the fact that Kimball has problems with Bateman’s less than
watertight alibi shows that the sleuth is the only person in the movie who
really listens to this impeccably coifed maniac– and sees through his façade.
Eventually, Bateman’s secretary Jean also catches on.
Played by Chloe Sevigny as a sweetly shy, insecure office gopher who puts
up with her boss’ criticisms of her business wardrobe while fielding calls,
Jean is another compassionate presence who stands out like a sore thumb in this
emotionally vacant world. “Have
you ever wanted to make someone happy?” she asks Bateman, fishing for some
human connection with this testosterone-addled beast, and unaware that he has a
nail gun poised at the back of her head. The
other women in his life, including sedative-gobbling mistress Courtney (Samantha
Mathis) and social climbing fiancée Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), are so numbed
by Bateman’s world of material status and decadent dinner clubs that when he
dumps each of them, there’s no real sadness: it’s just a formality.
this ice-cold premise outlives its welcome.
The concept of Patrick Bateman, a guy with Tom Cruise looks, a limitless
line of credit, and no soul, is the stuff of genius. But ultimately, American
Psycho is all dressed up with nowhere to go. When the audience is tipped off that Bateman might be
hallucinating, and that his murders might not actually be for real, corporate,
cutthroat greed is let off the hook so that schizophrenia can take the rap.
It’s a cop-out. By film’s end, we’re not sure what really happened, while
Bateman’ repetitive power-lunch-‘n-snuff routine continues, redundantly.
directed by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy
Warhol), who has dubbed the film “feminist.” So be it. Treading similar
ground as Neil LaButte’s In the Company
of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors,
Harron’s movie suggests that the primal male drive to compete and conquer has
yet to be tempered and managed. Today’s
alpha male might not use sticks and stones to bludgeon his aggressors, but
he’s still seething inside, just dying to one-up his peers with that new
Rolex, Porsche, or Ralph Lauren wardrobe. American
Psycho paints this picture brilliantly, but the canvas is too big.
In the manner of her meticulous title character, Harron should have
whittled down this would-be masterpiece by severing a few bits and pieces.
Even so, she’s a talent to be watched.