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'American Psycho' ties yuppie greed to serial killing


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 14, 2000
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Christian Bale delivers powerful performance as serial

Christian Bale has a killer smile, or rather, the smile of a killer.

Actually, it's both. That may be because he enjoys killing people - at least as Patrick Bateman in his new film "American Psycho."

In fact, the film, based on the infamous Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, is especially violent.

He is heartless and self-consumed - the kind of man who loves the smell of misogyny in the morning, the kind of person that would never be labeled the quiet, polite neighbor.

Bateman lives in New York and works on Wall Street, where his bloodthirst is indistinguishable from the amoral greed and ravenous consumption of yuppie culture at the height of the 80s avarice.

Herein lies the film's biting, if overt, message - capitalist greed is no different than homicidal tendencies.

Bateman's world is one of body-obsessed, name-dropping, money-loving fraternity brothers, dressed in Versace suits and shoes of the finest Italian leather.

Director Mary Harron surrounds Bateman's boys club in appropriately opulent apartments and uber-hip restaurants, which makes for some stunning cinematography.

To them, everything is a commodity, including women (hence Bateman's lack of moral restraint in killing and consuming them).

It is all about the image.

In one absurdly funny scene, the characters compare business cards in the Wall Street equivalent of a spitting contest - heaping praise on the card with the most refined, tasteful lettering and layout.

Harron often blatantly points out that their pretty exteriors are hiding darker, more dangerous interiors.

She plays, quite effectively, with Bateman's attempt to resolve the two extremes of his public and private self. Bateman is a man caught in an existential identity crisis, and Harron frequently obscures his face behind translucent taxi cab windows.

Moreover, the viewer, like Bateman, is never sure whether his killings have truly happened or whether they are the psychotic manifestations of his deepest desires brought about by the greedy yuppie culture.

"American Psycho" addresses big themes but still manages to present them without heavy-handedness. Harron has crafted a smart, farcical film that - despite its violence - is often absurdly amusing.

Bale perfectly embodies Bateman's ruthless charm and unrestrained impulsiveness. It is Bale's charisma that keeps the audience from completely reviling a character who constantly watches pornography and keeps a severed head wrapped neatly in a plastic bag right next to the sorbet in his fridge. Bale is fascinating to watch, whether he is emoting unchecked bloodthirst or psychotic meltdown.

"American Psycho," just like its main character, is two-sided. While on the outside it is brutally violent, there are more beneath its surface.

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