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American Psycho (2000)

December 5th, 2007 · 3 Comments

American Psycho 2000 poster.jpg   American Psycho DVD.jpg

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) wakes up in his apartment on West 81st Street. His day starts with stomach crunches and anti-aging eye balm. Patrick reports to his job as vice president of an investment firm owned by his father. His secretary Jean (Chloë Sevigny) keeps track of his lunch schedule. Patrick later has dinner with his “supposed fiancee” Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), whose wedding planning interferes with his listening to the new Robert Palmer tape.

Unsatisfied by the lack of attention from his medicated girlfriend (Samantha Mathis) and feeling marginalized at work – where his smarmy colleague Paul Allen (Jared Leto) has business cards much more admired than his – Patrick stabs a homeless man and kills his dog on the way home. He settles on Paul for his next victim, distracting him with a critical analysis of the new CD by Huey Lewis and the News before chopping him up with an axe.

Patrick covers up the murder to make it look like Paul has run off to London. A police detective (Willem Dafoe) drops by the office, and Patrick is unable to answer a single question without looking guilty. His murder spree continues. With police closing in, Patrick calls his attorney and confesses his crimes. The attorney thinks it’s a gag. When Patrick maintains he’s not joking, the attorney informs his client it must be; he just had lunch with Paul Allen in London.

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Production history 
Author Bret Easton Ellis had been anointed as the voice of Blank Generation with Less Than Zero and its follow-up, The Rules of Attraction. The ’90s didn’t go as well for him. Ellis’ third novel – American Psycho – was a first person account of investment banker Patrick Bateman, whose inability to fit in during the day leads him to murder the homeless, prostitutes and business associates by night.

Set to publish it in March 1991, Simon & Schuster was hit with a furor among feminists, who alleged the book was a how-to manual on the torture and dismemberment of women. The publisher bowed out. Random House issued the novel in paperback, while producer Edward Pressman bought the film rights. Johnny Depp and director Stuart Gordon expressed interest in the project. Pressman commissioned various scripts, including one Ellis wrote that ended with a musical number. None of the adaptations worked.

Mary Harron then entered the picture. Pressman felt the director of I Shot Andy Warhol got the “cosmic irony” of the novel. She wrote several drafts with Guinevere Turner. Of the many actors Harron met, Christian Bale was the first to recognize and want to explore the absurdity of murderous YUPPIE Patrick Bateman. He was warned by people that it would be career suicide to take the part, but that only made Bale more eager to give it a try.

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The studio – Lion’s Gate – preferred a star in the lead role. On a whim, they sent the script to Leonardo DiCaprio, with a $20 million offer to take over the part. To the amazement of many, DiCaprio agreed to do the movie. Harron felt this was completely insane; the Titanic heartthrob was too young to be credible as an investment banker/psycho killer. She also felt casting a star with a young fan base in this type of film would be trouble down the road.

When she refused to meet with DiCaprio, Harron was fired. DiCaprio had a short list of directors he wanted to work with – Danny Boyle and Martin Scorsese were the top two – but it was Oliver Stone who came on board. Stone’s script was less satirical than Harron’s and more psychological. But Stone deviated too far from the novel for DiCaprio’s taste, and he opted to star in The Beach for Danny Boyle instead.

Lion’s Gate gave Harron her job back. The studio signed off on Bale, on the condition that Harron cast known actors around him, and kept her budget below $10 million. Shooting commenced in Toronto in March 1999. Harron’s cut was threatened with an X rating – not for any violence, but for a scene where Bateman appeared to be having too much fun with two prostitutes – and was trimmed to an R for its theatrical release.

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The film was well received by critics and was a modest success at the box office. It inspired Lion’s Gate to do a laughable direct-to-DVD sequel – American Psycho 2: All American Girl – with Mila Kunis and William Shatner that had nothing to do with the novel or Harron’s film. Saw came along two years later and ended up being what the studio had in mind, an inexpensive horror film that the studio could launch into a franchise.

I don’t mind American Psycho. I mostly liked it the first time I saw it, and only liked it a bit less watching it again this week. There are at least two scenes here that are dead solid perfect in their execution: the business card duel, and the killing of Paul Allen while “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News plays. Harron does a wonderful job balancing comic lunacy with stark, chilling tension in these two scenes.

Neither Ellis’ story or the filmmakers can sustain that level of absurdity for 101 minutes. Nearly all of the characters are a waste of paper; only Chloë Sevigny plays someone remotely interesting. Harron excels at not making a bad movie, but never makes a really good one either. The chief reason to see American Psycho is Christian Bale, whose performance is one of the decade’s most memorable. The actor’s willingness to look both goofy and bloodthirsty – often in the same scene – is brilliant.

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The Vocabularist at Movie Cynics says, “American Psycho is one of the best looking horror flicks of the last decade and its tight dialogue and disorienting affect upon the viewer are seldom matched within the genre.”

“Harron has taken what was primarily a thriller novel by Bret Easton Ellis and shaped it into an often hilarious black comedy. With this move, Harron risks losing the poignancy of Ellis’ brilliant novel, but gains a satire of cutthroat corporate America that more than makes up for any flaws in the script,” writes Mike Dean at Jiminy Critic!

Brett Cullum at DVD Verdict writes that American Psycho, “skillfully points its finger at male culture run amok. The feminists never understood the real danger – it’s the men who should be screaming in outrage as they watch it. The film succeeds in rescuing the book from its own bad reputation.”

“That’s bone. And the lettering is something called … Silian Rail.” View the business card duel between Patrick Bateman and his fellow YUPPIES.

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Black comedy · Cult favorite · Prostitute · Psycho killer · Rated X

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Megan // Dec 7, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    I am a huge fan of Bale’s and of this movie. I keep recommending it to people, and they keep not ‘getting’ it. Can’t understand what I find funny. Their loss, I guess!

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Dec 7, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    Megan: I thought this movie was hilarious. As for Bale, I think he gets a lot more credit as a serious actor than he does a “star” who can open movies, which is fine with me. Everyone knows he was Batman, but I don’t see his name mentioned in the same sentence with Will Smith, Brad Pitt, actors who can get a movie made.

  • 3 film dude // Jan 20, 2008 at 1:02 am

    i admire any movie that goes so far to make a statement… sure enough you gotta watch it a few times to take everything in

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