Lionsgate // 2000 // 102 Minutes // Rated NC-17
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // June 21st, 2005
Patrick Bateman: There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me -- only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable...I simply am not there.
The blackest of black comedies, American Psycho took one of the most notorious books of the early '90s and turned it into one of the best-reviewed movies of 2000. In effect, it kicked off the new millennium by taking us back to the greed and bloodlust of the '80s. Back when the film was released we had no idea history would repeat itself, and we'd find ourselves poised to return full circle to a similar era in 2005. The world has finally caught up to American Psycho. Re-released in a "quadruple dip" Killer Collector's edition by Lions Gate, this DVD is trying to capitalize on the attention Christian Bale will certainly receive as the titular Dark Knight in Batman Begins . But they have unwittingly reopened Pandora's box, and the movie will hopefully find its place in a new era. Evil never looked so damn good.
American Psycho takes you inside the head of Patrick Bateman, a monster roaming the streets of 1987 New York City. He is a yuppie who works on Wall Street, dines in the best restaurants, and -- in his spare time -- mercilessly kills women and men for sport. Status and style no longer quench his thirst for something to fill the void in his life, so he has turned his murderous rage outwards towards the world. Problem is, the world really doesn't care. Bateman may be a psychopath, but he's surrounded by sociopaths who can't be bothered to notice how his immaculate mask is slipping. How far will he have to go before the world wakes up? This is not an exit.
The book American Psycho was written to fulfill a three book deal between Bret Easton Ellis and his publisher. He had wild success with Less than Zero, a novel written while he was still an undergraduate at Bennington College. The follow-up, Rules of Attraction, wasn't as popular as the first. American Psycho, his third book, was dropped thanks to the publisher's extremely negative reaction to the content, and pressure from people concerned about the effect it might have. Ellis had moved on from promiscuous drug-addled college students and written a book about a killer yuppie that was destined to enrage feminists across the nation. Several passages in the book described in agonizing detail the ritualistic and extreme methods Patrick Bateman used to kill women. The National Organization of Women and Gloria Steinem were protesting the book before it was even published, proclaiming that Ellis would have the blood of women on his hands if the book came out. Due to the scandal, several savvy publishing houses began to take an interest in publishing American Psycho. Eventually Vintage Contemporaries released the book as a trade paperback in 1991. The book's release created a maelstrom of controversy, complete with hotlines for people to call, so that they could have offensive passages read to them in order to incite anger and, hopefully, protests of any bookstore selling the tome. In San Francisco, a B. Dalton Bookseller was invaded by a crazed woman who poured blood all over the copies of the novel on display. The book sold over a quarter of a million copies (probably some with blood on them) in its first week, and "the most hated book of our time" was born. Ellis was hurt and surprised that his social satire of how disconnected the world has become had been so misunderstood, but he was once again a hot property.
The next question was -- who would make the movie? The book had been passed around like a hot potato in the publishing world; the same thing would happen in Hollywood, as different actors and directors were attached to the project. Early reports had David Cronenberg (Videodrome) shooting an extreme version in black and white with Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) and a screenplay by Ellis himself. Stuart Gordon (Reanimator), Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers), Brian DePalma (Carrie), and Renny Harlin (Die Hard) were all candidates to helm the film. Tom Cruise (Risky Business) and Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) were actors whose names were bandied about for the Bateman role. The most notorious episode came when Oliver Stone was attached to the project, and Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic) and Cameron Diaz (Charlie's Angels) were slated as leads. Legend has it that Gloria Steinem told DiCaprio he would be ruined if he acted in the film, and his conscience (and fear of a feminist backlash) got the better of him. So instead he went on to film The Beach.
In the end, some really unlikely candidates ended up with the project. Mary Harron had made a picture called I Shot Andy Warhol, wherein she gave a poignant portrait of a killer, and she ultimately got the directing job. Her choice for the lead was Christian Bale, a Welsh actor known mostly for his debut role in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. She worked with Guinivere Turner (Go Fish) on adapting the novel into a workable screenplay. So two women would take on the novel with a rising star who was hungry to get noticed. The deal was sealed, and American Psycho finally got the green light.
The movie is spectacular and dazzling; easily the best adaptation of a Brett Easton Ellis novel ever made (with Rules of Attraction running a close second and Less Than Zero a far removed third). Like the novel, we see the movie through Patrick Bateman's distorted eyes. His is a disorienting, cruel world, where it's up to the viewer to decide how to react to the ultraviolence and malevolent humor on the screen. It's cold, distant, removed, and distasteful. It's also funny in turns, and absolutely beautifully shot with great acting. Mary Harron and Guinivere Turner compress the novel into a manageable length, and humanize some of the characters around Bateman -- who in the novel are all as equally vile as he is. They make some of the women more real, so the violence has a sense of gravitas the novel refused to impart. Another surprising spin in the movie is how it objectifies men in the same way women have been for decades in film. Christian Bale is shot fully naked in many sequences, while his female co-stars are given coverage or allowed to pose in positions that are not as revealing. Men in American Psycho look hollow, vain, and shallow to a fault. They capture the essence of the modern metrosexual, and make him look dopey and vain. Anything misogynistic about the perceived tone of the book is wiped away by Harron's refusal to do anything but exploit her male cast and make them all play the fool. It is a horror movie and a comedy all at once, always skating on the razor-thin divide between the two. Purposefully ambiguous, it will have you arguing for hours over what it all means. Harron is purposefully paying homage to one of her heroes, Luis Bunuel (Belle De Jour). She refuses to make things easy or obvious at any turn, and the film is richer for it by not ever giving simple answers or playing by the rules of popular cinema. It is not content to be just a horror movie, or just a comedy of manners and bizarre cuisine gone crazy. It is everything, wrapped up in a malicious bow.
The acting in the movie is top-flight, and everyone nails the parts of status-obsessed New Yorkers in the '80s. Christian Bale does an amazing job as Patrick Bateman. He is willing to become the character completely, from a vigorous eye-popping bodybuilding routine to an exact American accent. The brilliance come through as he plays Bateman for what he truly is: just a construct. He's not a person so much as he is a void where a man should be. Where any other actor would want to look cool and sexy, Bale allows the black humor to come through by playing klutzy and vain simultaneously. He acquits himself spectacularly as the psycho killer lead in this star-making turn. The rest of the cast are really only there as grist for the mill, but everyone seems to catch on to the right tone, turning in pitch-perfect performances. Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) is Patrick's blonde bitch of a fiancée, Jared Leto (Fight Club) is archly hilarious as Bateman's nemesis, and Willem Dafoe (The Last Temptation of Christ) is creepy and calm as the private dick who may know too much. A real stand-out in the movie is Chloe Sevigny as one of the few real and likable people in the movie, Bateman's put-upon secretary.
American Psycho has seen three previous incarnations on DVD. First came an unrated cut, which surprisingly restored some footage to the sex scenes and nothing to the violent passages (thanks, MPAA, for protecting me -- sex is way more dangerous than screen violence). A traditional R-rated cut was also released for mega-chains like Wal-Mart and Blockbuster, which preserved the less sexy theatrical cut. Both of these versions were pretty bare bones except for a six minute interview with Bale. When those two versions went out of print, Lions Gate re-released their unrated cut of the movie with the same extras. So is this new Killer Collector's edition worth chucking your previous copy? Absolutely. Gone is the Bale interview, but a three part featurette examines the American Psycho phenomenon from page to screen. Film critics and creative types from the movie and academia are assembled to discuss the movie in some insightful talking head interviews. There is also an exceptional featurette on the '80s in NYC, where several luminaries from the downtown scene of Manhattan in the Reagan era discuss what it was like. Included in this piece are James St. James (author of the book-turned-movie Party Monster), columnist and celebrity gossip-monger Michael Musto, and assorted experts on the subject. We get two commentaries: one with director Mary Harron, and another with co-script writer and featured actress Guinivere Turner. Deleted scenes are included with commentary, as well as almost every ad created for the movie. Even the transfers look better. The widescreen is now anamorphic, and it seems just a touch more clear, though there is still minor dirt on the print in places. The 5.1 surround mix has been amped up a little, and another 2.0 surround mix is provided for viewers with less advanced home set-ups. The menus are retooled to thematically tie in with the movie, and the packaging looks a little more artsy. This is the version to own, because it is technically superior and the extras provide a lot of context and insight into the production. It's a great effort from Lions Gate, and finally justifies a re-release hoping to cash in on a Summer blockbuster.
As much as critics universally praised the film, a lot of people really hate American Psycho. They don't get it, finding it cold and removed as well as confusing. The movie purposefully disconnects itself from the audience, and it toys with reality in ways that create some confusion if you're not willing to follow it. It immediately polarizes its audience -- because it's not horrific enough for guys, and it's too bloody for women. As much as women protested the book, the movie should probably be the target of male ire. Guys come off looking horrible in the movie, especially conservative white men who identify themselves as yuppies. It takes a rare, discriminating viewer to appreciate what the movie is doing. The satire is too sophisticated for most palates. It is, in essence, an art house splatter movie -- and that's a hard sell in any context. The characters were designed to be hateful, the whole lot of them. This is an anti-hero movie where hardly anyone is likable. Ironic detachment is not a popular technique in film, and this movie does it almost too well for many people's taste.
Much has been made about the film's ambiguity. Is any of this real, or is the entire experience one long hallucination? Some people really are put off when a movie sets out to mess with your mind. If you dislike that feeling, American Psycho is going to send you into a murderous rage. American Psycho will ask you to make up your mind about what is real, and plausibility be damned. This is a stylized vision of reality; a dark comedy world of ludicrous happenings. The real purpose of the book and the movie is to taint the shiny slick '80s culture with the feeling that these are people feasting in the middle of the plague. Though the movie never mentions AIDS or crack as anything more than punchlines to its off-color jokes, their specter is raised nimbly through Bateman's marriage of sex and death, helped along with some well-placed drugs. It's a damn dark ride, and it's not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. It asks the hard questions, and it's distasteful to make a point. Yes, it is repetitive with its constant parade of over-the-top restaurants and mindless killing. That's the point, but it will still drive many people nuts.
My only gripe with the extras are the lack of any footage with Christian Bale or Bret Easton Ellis. I don't understand why they decided to excise the interview with Bale when this release is such an obvious ploy to cash in on the imminent Bale-as-Batman craze. Ellis, for his part, deserves a chance to explain himself. After being vilified by reactive vocal feminists like Gloria Steinem, the author should be giving his side of the story. It's a pity the producers of this DVD couldn't get the two most important voices of this work included in the package.
If you're a fan of American Psycho, this is a great DVD. You get a striking film which skillfully skewers the yuppies of the '80s at the perfect time, when conservativism has come full cycle. When the film was released theatrically it wasn't the right time for its trademark bite. But today this black comedy has more legs than ever -- and it's a well-made film to boot. Patrick Bateman never disappeared from our society; men are now even more obsessed with their bodies and bank accounts. Bret Easton Ellis and Mary Harron should feel horrified that their dark look back at the '80s has become a cautionary tale for our time. Lions Gate provides a solid collector's DVD that finally delivers the answers to questions that have lingered for years about the movie.
American Psycho is guilty of being smart and scathing. It 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.
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated NC-17
* Commentary by Director/Co-Writer Mary Harron
* Commentary by Co-Writer/Actor Guinivere Turner
* Featurette: American Psycho: From Book to Screen
* Featurette: The Pornography of Killing by Holly Willis
* Featurette: The '80s: Downtown
* Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary
* Trailers and TV Spots
* American Psycho Discussion Site
* Paper Discussing the Novel's Merits
* Unofficial Bret Easton Ellis Page