Best Movies of All Time + [Willem Dafoe]

AMERICAN PSYCHO

AMERICAN PSYCHO2000NC-17

"I like to dissect girls. Did you know I'm utterly insane?"-- Patrick Bateman
American Psycho is a 2000 satirical thriller directed by Mary Harron that serves as a film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the same name. It tells the story of a young Wall Street executive named Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) living the yuppie culture of the 1980s. Believing himself to be better than his peers, he delves into materialism and greed so that he can stay ahead of the curve, all while trying to "fit in." He admits that his emotionless lifestyle leaves him very bored, and that has led to a sort of nighttime blood-lust that's slowly creeping into his everyday activities. His homicidal desires reach a peak when a colleague named Paul Allen (Jared Leto) proves himself to be better-off than Bateman is, and in retaliation, Patrick crafts a plot to murder him. This experience only goes to further Bateman's string of psychotic episodes, leaving him in a state where he can't quite determine what's really and what's imagined.

My first interaction with American Psycho came with Bravo's television special "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments," which aired in October 2006 and served as a sequel to their original mini-series, "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments." The 2006 special included the scene where Bale's Bateman murders Leto's Paul Allen, and that little snippet of a scene managed to hook my interest. I soon hunted down the film and gave it a view, and I was instantly confused about what it all meant. It was quite a bit to take in, and over the years, I've managed to see the film on a few other occasions. And yet, even after this particular viewing, I don't quite know what's going on during American Psycho.

At its core, the film is truly a satire about the materialistic and greedy culture of the 1980s. We see a number of Wall Street businessmen doing their best to stay ahead of the curve their colleagues set, all the while delving into basic carnal needs to satisfy their lives' emptiness. Bateman does the same, but takes his methods of satisfaction to an entirely different level with his need for violence. For the first half of the film, all that seems fine and dandy. However, as soon as Bateman goes through with his plot against Allen, we see the strings of his sanity start to come a little bit loose. He's not sure exactly what's real in his life anymore, and by association, we as the audience aren't quite sure either. It all leads up to a very vague finale that's probably leaving the interpretation open and on the table. I can honestly say that three-quarters of the way through the film, I'm sure I know what's going on, but as soon as the final scene fades to the credits, my ideas have changed, and I'm not sure at all.

What is grounded in reliable fact is the strength of the central performance from Christian Bale. While the film offers strong, albeit small, roles from familiar faces like Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Reese Witherspoon, Chloë Sevigny and Willem Dafoe, this is really Bale's vehicle, and he's the one who demands all the attention. Even in the more mundane scenes, where we see Patrick going through his every morning routine, you can't help but be encapsulated by Bale's character. At times, he manages to show absolutely no emotion on his face, and given that's the character's biggest identifier, I have to say I'm always thoroughly impressed. As Bateman spirals into insanity, however, Bale becomes a little more over-the-top, but never so much that he becomes unbelievable. As strange as the character may seem today to today's audiences in 2012, Bale always makes Patrick Bateman believable.

At the end of the day, I'm not quite sure what the real drawing power of American Psycho proves to be. Bale's performance is enough to keep me watching, but I think it's the open-endedness of the ending that will keep bringing most viewers back. I've heard many a fan argue both sides of the spectrum, and I have my own ideas as well, but I'll refrain from going into detail about them here. From the outset, American Psycho was toted as a big deal: at its debut at Sundance in 2000, it was hailed as the "next Fight Club." And while I don't think it quite measures up to that 1999 masterpiece, I do think that, given enough time, American Psycho will be held with the same such clout and respect.

Movie Review SummaryGrade: A-Status: Must-See