Adapting Bret Easton Ellis' chilling novel was always going to be a challenge yet director Mary Harron did really well to find a unique, stylish angle on it.
While nowhere near as gruesome as the book, the film's classier, more implied approach works perfectly well, keeping it firmly in the horror genre but also making sure to make the satire of 80's excess and vanity as biting as possible. Christian Bale plays wealthy New York banking executive Patrick Bateman in his most substantial stand-out role pre-Batman. To date, this is quite probably his most striking performance even if, on a purely physical level, his dedication to his roles in The Fighter and The Machinist are particularly memorable. In American Psycho, he gives us an all-around full-on portrayal of a serial killer complete with creepy monologues, conflicting morals, bat-shit insane breakdowns and a meticulous approach to his looks and how he is perceived by his peers. Instead of putting us directly deep inside Bateman's twisted mind like the book does, hence how unapologetically grim it is, we are shown Bateman how he sees himself, his sociopathic tendencies only coming out through his shocking actions and through many little telling details when he's not in killer mode. Unfortunately, this means that the film's ending is so open-ended it's basically impenetrable. After all, how can you really understand a guy and his story when he doesn't understand it himself?
Apart from the perfect cast which includes Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto, Chloe Sevigny, Willem Dafoe and Justin Theroux, many factors make the film as good as it is. The cinematography is slick and the whole film is visually beautifully crafted from start to finish, the unsettling score clashes with the manic 80's soundtrack which Bateman famously promotes during his brutal kills. You'll definitely not listen to Huey Lewis and The News and Genesis in quite the same way again, that's for sure. Everything about the film supports Bateman's inner conflicts from its sinister opening to its rather puzzling climax. Of course, the ridiculousness of Bateman's unhealthy obsessions isn't ignored and the film is actually very funny throughout, the very idea of wanting to axe someone to death because of something as trivial as business cards and dinner reservations is so grotesque it's hilarious, albeit darkly so. The film's sense of humour is mean-spirited and completely effective. Some classic moments include Bateman running around in his undies carrying a chainsaw, a glimpse at a disturbing crossword puzzle, Bateman using "I was probably returning some videotapes" as an alibi, a nutty final shoot-out and some of the least titillating sex scenes you'll see in a cinema-friendly movie, even if Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac probably gives it a good run for its money.
American Psycho may disappoint those looking for something more visceral like the novel but it's hard to deny how well made this movie is. It gets its point across without taking the cheap, obvious gory route and it nails its odious character and his story that way. As a horror movie, a dark comedy and a psychological thriller, it's a fascinating piece of polished madness and it definitely deserves more recognition.
A modern classic.