American Psycho (2000)
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release date: September 25th , 2018
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Patrick Bateman has everything: a swanky high-rise apartment, a cushy job as an executive on Wall Street, a meticulous morning skin care regimen, social connections galore, a doting fiancée, and an incredible CD collection. We know most of this because he’s eager to tell us with a voiceover narration that sounds, well, just like a typical voiceover narration you might hear in a commercial. There’s something slightly detached—if not completely phony—about his delivery, which makes sense when he informs us of one thing he doesn’t have: a soul, or whatever quality he might have that would make him human. Indeed, we quickly discover that he’s a sociopath, something that turns out to be more a feature rather than a bug in the scene immortalized by Mary Harron’s biting, incisive adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, a yuppie-era satire that unfortunately rings more truly now, over 25 years since its original publication.
Harron’s and co-writer Guinevere Turner’s take amounts to a bit of a roving character study, one that hovers around Bateman’s (Christian Bale) daily routine at work and in his social circles. At the former, he curiously does absolutely nothing besides berate his secretary (Chloe Sevigny) and avoid any sense of duty or responsibility. At the latter, his existence is somehow even more vapid, as group of indistinguishable yuppie doppelgangers engage in virtual dick measuring contests taking the form of bragging about landing posh dinner reservations or showing off business cards, each with such subtle differences that they basically mirror their owners: they’re all uniformly white, with negligible distinctions to tell them apart.
Despite this though, the exchange sets Bateman off: we watch as his eyes glaze over, simmering with some combination of impotent rage, envy, and utter disbelief as hot shot Paul Allen (Jared Leto) commands the room’s attention. He almost immediately channels this into a violent outburst, revealing a racist streak in the process when he castigates a homeless black man before gutting him in an alleyway. It’s a prelude to the revenge (of sorts) that he’ll take against Allen when he tricks his rival into drinking himself into oblivion, unwittingly making himself an easy target for Bateman’s axe. Technically, it’s the film’s inciting incident, as it arouses an investigation into the whereabouts of the supposedly missing Allen; however, the film itself hardly treats it like one, almost as if it were following the lead of its titular psychopath.
Instead of escalating into a paranoiac thriller, it takes a rather leisurely, slack pace. Bateman more or less goes about his life, only now he has to deal with the occasional intrusion of a detective (William Defoe) who questions him about Allen’s disappearance. He’s uncannily eager to oblige, of course, as he adopts an almost preternaturally courteous demeanor that’s as unnatural as a child wearing his father’s suit. Somehow, this detective—whose visits become more frequent—never seems to pick up Bateman’s scent as he mindlessly prattles on and futzes with his alibis, a chilling precursor to the fact that his deranged executive will absolutely evade any punishment.
Certainly, he doesn’t seem to feel the heat, as he carries on with a private life that becomes more unhinged with each passing day. His misogyny grows even more apparent as he arranges trysts with a prostitute (Cara Seymour) that become immediately uncomfortable when it’s obvious she’s nothing but a vapid vessel for Bateman, just another conquest that he can show off his other conquests to, be it another escort or his lavish apartment. Seymour arguably gives the film’s most crucial performance opposite of Bale, as her weary, hardened turn subtly communicates the sort of stunned, staggered resignation that arrives in the wake of someone like Patrick Bateman: her utter disinterest in him is obvious, but there’s a haunting inevitability to the way she falls into his orbit.
Men like Bateman tend to get what they want, usually by psychological coercion or brute force; he employs both at various points as he callously burns through the women in his life, subjecting them to various humiliations. His mistress (Samantha Mathis) finds herself dragged out to a dinner even though she’s drugged out of her mind, mostly because Bateman insists on simply being seen; meanwhile, he dumps his fiancée (Reese Witherspoon) in public, leading to a huge display that’s embarrassing for both of them. If there were ever a moment for him to somehow develop a semblance of a conscience or soul, it’d be here, when his fiancée is reduced to hysterical tears; instead, he flatly informs her that he’s not interested in her before leaving the restaurant before a throng of gawking, wide-eyed onlookers.
Bale is tremendous throughout the film but especially so here: you see him visibly strain to make a face that approaches the correct, concerned reaction, but it’s a complete disaster as he fumbles for the correct gestures. At one point, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre blares away on Bateman’s screen as he exercises, a sight gag that’s easily dismissed as a cheeky nod until you realize that he’s nothing more than a creature wearing human skin, doing his best—and failing miserably—to pass as a functioning member of society. Bale’s face is often unreal and rubbery, another sleek façade among the indistinguishable horde on Wall Street. His expressions are perpetually put-upon, at least when Bateman is out in public; in private, the only thing that seems to stir him to life is wild sex and murder.
Critics have rightfully praised Bale for nailing the script’s most obvious displays of psychotic bombast: his seemingly canned praises of Genesis and Huey Lewis albums, his macho posturing during sex, his smarmy interactions with his colleagues. He truly shines, though, during smaller, more intimate moments, when we learn that the only thing that registers is his fragile ego and vanity; Harron’s lens pushes in on those hollow, lifeless eyes during these moments, searching for some sign of humanity, only to find an utter blankness that everyone around Bateman mistakes as his being unassuming. For all his bravado and flaunted privilege, Bateman is virtually invisible to everyone surrounding him, mostly because they, too, are just as superficial and vain. Throughout the film, his colleagues constantly mistake him for someone else; eventually, even his lawyer does the same, all while laughing off Bateman’s desperate confession that he did, in fact, murder Paul Allen and several others. He dismisses it as a joke, much to the chagrin of Bateman, a fame whore who so desperately just wants to be seen by any means necessary.
Of course, the black-hearted absurdity of the film’s climax—wherein everything goes a little bit too well for Bateman—throws his exploits into question altogether. Has Bateman actually been an unreliable narrator this entire time, leading the audience through his deluded visions of psychotic grandeur? At least some of it (like the perfectly placed chainsaw he drops on a girl’s head in a stairwell or an ATM commanding him to feed it a cat) can be rationalized in that manner, but assuming all of Bateman’s claims are just his fantasies undercuts and dilutes the biting satire. American Psycho isn’t just a sharp takedown of Bateman himself; it’s a condemnation of this entire social strata that has continued to wreak havoc ever since the 80s by wrecking the economy and strong-arming government policies through wealth and privilege, all while barely concealing their metaphorical blood on their bedsheets.
When I first saw American Psycho as a teenager, I considered it to be a great joke at the expense of Bateman and his ilk: here is this brilliant, ruthless attack on male hedonism launched by a female director with an insightful understanding of male insecurity. No matter what Bateman does, he’s a spineless loser in the eyes of his peers, a fate that’s actually worse than being caught. He and his cronies felt like an unbelievable anachronism at the turn of the century, at least to my wide, hopelessly optimistic eyes that was yet to endure eight years of the Yuppie resurgence at the behest of George W. Bush’s administration.
18 years later, American Psycho feels prophetic: it turns out the joke here was actually on us, as Bateman’s evasion of any consequences for his actions feels all too real in light of an administration that commits daily atrocities without reprisal. It turns out that Bateman—whose most damning quality might actually be his idolization of Donald Trump—gets away with murder not because he’s unseen, but rather because nobody cares: not his colleagues, not his lawyer, certainly not the agency that clears the corpses from Paul Allen’s apartment in the hopes of reselling the prime real estate. As long as their lives flourish, what’s a few dead bodies? American Psycho is essentially Trump’s infamous claim that he could murder someone on 5th Avenue without losing any support writ large.
After a solid decade of being perfectly content with the Blu-ray format, we enthusiasts are once again tempted by a shiny new format in the form of 4K UHD, which promises twice the resolution of its regular old high-def counterpart. Despite being an early adopter of Blu-ray, I sat on the fence for UHD, mostly because it was hard to justify buying an entirely new TV; well, as luck (or misfortune, depending on your persuasion) would have it, I did find myself in the market for a new display, then scored a killer deal on a UHD Blu-ray player shortly thereafter. So far, my experience with it has been hit or miss: on the whole, this format represents the most negligible upgrade in quality across formats thus far: we’re a long, long way from the stunning revelations of DVD, and it’s not even on the level of jumping from SD to HD. Instead, it’s much more nuanced and subtle, mostly in terms of richer colors and deeper contrast, with finer details proving to be secondary, at least in my limited experience thus far.
American Psycho’s 4K presentation bears that out too, but that is in no way a criticism, especially since the original Blu-ray was supremely lackluster. While I wouldn’t consider this disc to be reference quality for the format as a whole, it’s an obvious upgrade from the Blu-ray release: the film pops in a way that it never has before on home video, and I’d ironically point to the business card scene as proof. Even though the joke there is predicated on each card being virtually the same, this presentation does bring out subtle differences in textures and tones. Bottom line: the film looks terrific thanks to this long overdue restoration.
Lionsgate has also included the supplements from previous releases, including separate commentaries from Harron and Turner, deleted scenes, a 45-minute making-of documentary, and a 30-minute retrospective on 80s pop culture. A newly recorded commentary with Harron was also commissioned for the release, making this disc quite definitive, at least if you have the necessary equipment. For myself, it was certainly a fine excuse to revisit a film I once considered to be a favorite as a teenager (read into that what you will, I guess) and confirm that it holds up, albeit for uncomfortable, disturbing reasons: indeed, American Psycho was a lot more fun before the likes of Patrick Bateman occupied the White House. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: