Directed by Mary Harron and based on Bret Easton Ellis‘ 1991 book of the same name, American Psycho follows 26-year-old Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a young, handsome and wealthy investment banking executive from New York, who has a beautiful fiancée, Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), a secretary who’s in love with him, Jean (Chloë Sevigny), and everything a man of his age could only dream of. Yet Bateman remains indistinguishable from his Wall Street colleague – Timothy Bryce (Justin Theroux), Craig McDermott (Josh Lucas), David Van Patten (Bill Sage), Luis Carruthers (Matt Ross), and Paul Allen (Jared Leto). That is, apart from one thing: Bateman is a psychotic serial killer, delving deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies as his everyday routine becomes more and more mundane. Fueled by materialism and envy, Bateman’s murderous impulses are sharpened as he steps up his homicidal activities to a frenzied pitch. But how much can he get away with?
The following post is a review of the film only. You can read my review of the film in comparison to the book here or my review of the book on its own here.
For a film that is centred around murder and sexual violence, American Psycho is surprisingly engaging to watch. A large part of that is down to Bret Easton Ellis‘ brilliant book that the film is based on, but it’s all strongly to do with Christian Bale‘s phenomenal performance as Patrick Bateman in this adaptation.
Although the character of Bateman should be immensely dislikeable, Ellis crafted his characteristics so well that we find ourselves almost condoning his behaviour, urging him to pursue his alter ego as a psychopathic murderer at times, with Bale taking on the role to become one of his most stand-out performances to date.
Full of shock and intrigue, although not half as gory as the book, the adaptation has a classic feel to it, using similar lines of dialogue to the book and with superb acting throughout.
A social satire that is relevant even today, Bateman’s narration and lengthy monologues, focusing on the irrelevance of his everyday life, are read aloud by Bale perfectly. Contrasted against his brutal actions, as well, it’s almost impossible not to want to crazily laugh along with him; it’s so deliriously twisted that you can’t help but be so drawn in by it.
Best of all, the twist at the end of the film can be interpreted in so many different ways that you will think differently about this film every time you watch it – sometimes seeing Bateman as so bored with his mundane life that he simply made everything up in his head, sometimes seeing it as Bateman being such a gutless character that nobody believed he could do such a thing, and other times seeing it as people just not caring enough, blurring everybody together because of how they all dress the same and work the same job, that it makes no difference if one of them accidentally goes missing.
As an adaptation, Harron makes excellent use of Ellis’ book. Whilst the film is much more watered down (many of the scenes we wouldn’t want to see on-screen, anyway) compared to the vivid details of the book’s sex scenes and descriptions of mutilation, the film captures the tone of the book perfectly.
The book does come across as more intellectual with the obsessive use of detail and descriptive narrations being even lengthier, sometimes spanning whole chapters just to describe a band’s discography, but Harron always references the same qualities that she has left out from the book, which is a brilliant nod to Ellis’ fans.
Although there are quite a few differences from the film to the book, Harron keeps the dialogue very similar and references any scenes that she has left out to ensure that fans of the book will be satisfied.
Whilst not as gory or as intense as the book, the film adaptation is still a shocking watch that leaves a big impact, capturing the tone perfectly and adding a brilliant cast that makes it even more enjoyable to experience.
Watching the film before reading the book means that you can picture Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, which makes the read even more engaging, too, but they’re both certainly worth your time and attention and, despite their controversies, which each remain classics for years to come.