review for American Psycho on AllMovie

American Psycho (2000)
by Karl Williams review

The greed, cynicism and selfishness of the '80s young urban professional got a ribbing in the novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, the Gen-X scribe's answer to author Tom Wolfe's broader The Bonfire of the Vanities (it's no coincidence that the main character of Ellis' novel works for the same, aptly titled firm, Pierce and Pierce, that employed the protagonist of Bonfire). In the hands of independent director Mary Harron, however, Ellis' novel becomes something else entirely: a feminist treatise on the misogyny and vanity of men. Although not totally eschewing the bloody violence of her source material, Harron finds creative ways to ignore most of the gore and focuses instead on the rampaging self-absorption of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a Wall Street shark so devoid of feeling that even he describes himself as not having "a single identifiable human emotion." Harron's interpretation of Bateman and Bale's icy, aloof performance are at odds with some of the film's dialogue, however: a gallows humor that doesn't fit is revealed when Bateman tells a woman not that he's in mergers and acquisitions but "murders and executions." As well as this dissonance between the Bateman who's seen and the one who's heard, a jarring conclusion leaves open to interpretation the reality of the tale's events, an element that vexed many readers of Ellis' novel. Harron keeps the book's tongue-in-cheek humor and body count but does not fix any of the book's problems, even compounding some of them by changing the focus of the tale away from period social satire, an artistic choice that negatively affects the coherence of the adaptation.