In 1991, Bret Easton Ellis' controversial novel "American Psycho" took the world by storm - women accused it of being misogynist, sexist filth and others were understandably shaken by its brutal and graphic depictions of unprovoked violence and torture.
Set in the 1980s, the book follows the story of a 27-year-old Harvard graduate named Patrick Bateman, who goes on a killing spree and murders "twenty, maybe forty people." It was originally slated for circulation in 1990, but Random House pulled out of distribution, fearing backlash. It was later released as part of a Vintage Series, and quickly sold over 250,000 copies, becoming one of the most popular (and, to some, important) literary works of our time.
In the movie, Welsh actor Christian Bale portrays Bateman gleefully tongue-in-cheek, whether it's confessing to manslaughter over the phone ("I just had to kill a lot of people!") or dancing to Huey Lewis and the News' "Fore" album before hitting an associate over the head with an axe.
Patrick is a troubled guy. On the surface, he appears to be normal - he's a Wall Street broker with a secretary, an expensive apartment suite, his own limo and a fancy business card. But on the inside, he's a monster - complete with an insatiable blood lust and lack of empathy for fellow human beings. (If he can indeed be classified as one.) As a film and a novel, "American Psycho" is an attack on the absurdities of the '80s yuppie era - sometimes the satire isn't very subtle, in fact it's often made very clear, but I liked it. Because the movie is so eccentric and over-the-top, and Bale is so loony and maniacal, the satire needs to be equally strong - and it is. Whether it's business men drooling over each other's fetishistic business cards or Patrick discussing the nuances of modern pop music before killing more victims, "American Psycho" hits strong and hard - this is a great, overwhelming cinematic and visual experience. It cannot be condemned for being unsubtle - it never was.
The performances are wonderful. Bale is superb as Bateman, totally embodying the character. As a man bewildered by his environment, and wanting only desperately to fit in, Bateman listens to Genesis and "Hip to Be Square"; finally we have proof that too much Phil Collins and Huey Lewis will turn you into the next Ed Gein.
Perhaps some fans of the novel will dislike Bale's performance (at times, it almost seems comical, such as when he murders his coworker Paul Allen, played by Jared Leto). But I thought it was the perfect mix of introspection, self-hatred, outer-loathing, lust, conformity and schizophrenia. Bale manages to capture all of this perfectly, and by the end of the film, I could not imagine anyone else in the role.
Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny and Reese Witherspoon all have co-starring roles, but at the end of the day it is Bale who really drives this film home - he's the reason it's worth seeing, and in part the reason it exceeds beyond the typical restraints of its genre.
Since its release, many critics have accused "American Psycho" of being a watered-down version of the book, being both "politically correct" and "lacking satire." However, I don't recall the last time I saw a man beat a dog to death with the heel of his shoe in a mainstream motion picture. Or chase after a prostitute completely naked, wielding a bloodied chainsaw. Or hold a gun to a cat's head and threaten to feed it to an ATM machine.
In fact, when "American Psycho" was previewed before the Motion Picture Association of America, they gave it an NC-17 rating - not for its violence, as one might expect, but rather for its threesome scene between Patrick and two prostitutes.
Director Mary Harron cut footage from the film and finally managed to achieve an R-rating, but on a new "Uncut Killer Collector's Edition" DVD, you can see the film as it was intended to be seen - and it's a real fine treat. Now excuse me, I have to go return some videotapes.