Directed by Mary Harron
Produced by Edward R. Pressman, Chris Hanley & Christian Halsey Solomon
Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Matt Ross, Chloe Sevigny & Reese Witherspoon
Before we go anywhere, I have a rather dreadful admission that will have many of you screaming "What kind of genre fan are you, mate?". I have never in all my years managed to summon the intestinal fortitude to actually complete Brett Easton Ellis' controversial novel. It's a "love it or hate it" publication that has the intelligentsia expounding its subversive, blackly comic horrors as one of the great literary works of our time, and people like myself exasperated a mere fifty odd pages in at its mind-numbing attention to detail (don't worry, I "got it", it was just a heavy, heavy read). For sure, it's a very clever piece of work, but sometimes I'm so "old school" that I pine for the heyday of James Herbert, Shaun Hutson, and to a lesser degree even Gary Brandner and Thomas Harris. So, my sincerest of apologies to all the fans of the book out there reading this, as although it's a scathing critique of the "greed era", it just wasn't my cup o' tea. Mary Harron's film adaptation however, is an entirely different kettle of corpses.
It is 1987 and Patrick Bateman (Bale) is a high-powered Wall Street executive, living in the eighties fast lane of competitive excess. Fiercely image conscious to the point of ludicrous obsession, he appears like any other of his high profile counterparts. He has a beautiful, socialite fiancée in Evelyn Williams (Witherspoon); a gorgeous drug addled sex-kitten mistress in Courtney Rawlinson (Mathis), and spirited office competition from Paul Allen (Leto). And not forgetting his blissfully unaware secretary Jean (Sevigny), who juggles his day to day appointments coyly fluttering her eyelids whilst harbouring a secret crush on him. Or so it would appear…
A perfect life? For Patrick Bateman it is the mask of sanity that hides his other face, his alternate reality. You see, Patrick is also a twisted serial killer, an individual whose homicidal tendencies are so perverse that he is unable to contain his murderous bloodlust, or depraved sexual fantasies. But is it all nightmarish reality, or simply the unnerving fractures in Bateman's psyche as a fervent mental introspection to the faceless banality of his everyday life? Whatever the case, Detective Donald Kimball (Dafoe) would sure like to know more when Bateman's associate Allen suddenly disappears. Something is not quite right, is it murder or is it simply another of Bateman's monstrously realistic fantasies? Thus begins the cinematic powerplay, is what we are watching reality? Or is it Bateman's surreal view of reality?
There's only one thing you can say in relation to Christian Bale's take on Patrick Bateman and that is that he plays the part superbly. It's a powerhouse performance from Bale that cleverly skirts the fine line between murderous insanity and ridiculous self-parody. The Welshman has come a long way since his debut in Spielberg's "Empire Of The Sun", and Bateman is about as far removed from reporter Arthur Stuart in Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine" (Oh, what a film!) as one could ever hope for. Sadly, this tour-de-force performance seems to have typecast Bale somewhat, as anyone who's seen John Singleton's "Shaft" will agree. Hopefully "Equilibrium" will shake off the notoriety this part seems to have gained him, as he is undoubtedly one of the brightest talents to emerge from the Hollywood system for some time.
Within the confines of "American Psycho", Bale's character is peerlessly the most identifiable character onscreen at any given moment, clinical in his obsession, compelling in his insanity. Bateman is (perhaps disturbingly so) the only character that the audience is allowed to identify with, as all around him pale into insignificance in his juggernaut-like wake. Clearly this was Harron's intention, surrounding Bateman with a faceless sea of superficial greed, intensifying his isolation and alienation from his surrounds. However, in retrospect, it is a daring move within modern contemporary cinema to play with stereotypes to a degree that the primary focus of darkness and psychological imbalance becomes the central reference point for the audience. Very few features of this variety would even contemplate asking their audience to identify with a murderer, without reprieve or positive balance. Harron pulls it off seamlessly, and you don't think twice to even question. Bateman is so engrossing that you never bat an eyelid…
However, the true star of this superlative piece of cinema is director Mary Harron, whose only other feature prior to "Psycho" was the offbeat "I Shot Andy Warhol" with Lili Taylor, another fine study in obsessive behaviour. The fact that director Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner have, by downplaying the novel's monstrous violence and focussing on its satirical edge, fine tuned Easton's novel into one of the most disturbing, and enthralling, black comedies of recent years is a testament to their amazing talents. But let's not forget it is also a horror film, and a mighty refined and cultured one at that, as well as a knowing wink to those who remember the greed era of the eighties. Perhaps the strongest characteristic of Harron's film version of Easton's novel is, for those that have not read the book, the playful ambiguity of its reality. Without wanting to give too much away, there is an angle of perception that the film plays to, both in its unfolding of the events, and of the Bateman character himself…have a closer look. Harron has crafted something intricately layered for those willing to delve a little deeper…
Although sorely lacking a director's commentary from Harron (I would have loved to have heard her thoughts on the book-to-film process), Columbia's disc is quite breathtaking in both picture & sound quality. Columbia's disc boasts a clarity beyond description, rich colours and strong shadow detail. The sound too is something quite extraordinary as, although the surrounds are used sparingly, it adds an unsettling depth to the proceedings. John Cale's score (one of the best things the genre has produced since Howard Shore's work on "Silence") and the plethora of eighties pop hits are serviced well by the 5.1 mix. Indeed, Cale's score must have suitably impressed some one as it is presented in isolated form (also 5.1) as an additional audio track. This is a pleasing touch, as well as a feature that we should see (hear?) more of. The remainder of the Extras consist of a short featurette (the EPK by the looks of things), the theatrical trailer (which sells the film as a generic serial killer piece), and Cast & Crew biographies.
The most annoying aspect of Columbia's R4 disc is that its Extra features differ wildly from both the R1 and R2 disc. Where R4 gets the above listed additional materials, the R1 disc contains the following items: Production notes, Interview with Christian Bale, "Making of" featurette and theatrical trailer. The R2 (UK) disc improves on the R1 edition by containing the following: Behind the scenes interviews (x7), FIVE deleted scenes, "Killer Looks" costume acquisition spot and theatrical trailer. Clearly it comes down to a matter of choice of supplemental materials for your respective territory as being the decider for which version of the disc you purchase. Although I was quite taken with the isolated score feature on the R4 disc, the desire to see deleted footage and additional interview material leaves me with but one option. I have to buy this frikkin' disc again (albeit from another territory)! Joy…
My minor squabbling over DVD anomalies aside, "American Psycho" is one of the boldest genre films unveiled in years from the American mainstream. Bale's performance is extraordinary, and Harron's direction without fault nor peer. It is not a film for the slasher fans, nor is it a film for the commercial filmgoer. It is a darkly comic, frighteningly disturbing exercise that sits somewhere uncomfortably between the two schools. Accordingly, it will appeal to a select audience, of which I am one. If your cinematic tastes are a little more adventurous than the standard generic horror fare, I would strongly suggest you seek out this film. Successive viewings can strip away new layers, leaving a different perspective of the events each time. All others had best rent this first, before they make their minds up. You may loathe it. It is certainly not your average horror film, and I for one will never be able to hear Huey Lewis or Phil Collins in the same light again…
*The R4 disc, per the UK & European R2 discs, is the full uncut version of the film. There is no extra gore, however the blackly comic menage-a-trois sex scene plays out for an additional 10 or so seconds. US censors are such a prudish bunch!
Review by M.C.Thomason
|Released by Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment|
|Classified R - Region 4|
|Running time - 102m|
|Ratio - Widescreen 2.35 (16x9 enhanced)|
|Audio - Dolby digital 5.1|
|Featurette; Theatrical trailer; Isolated score; Talent profiles|