In developing a thoroughly apt if thunderingly obvious metaphor for '80s excess, Bret Easton Ellis took as the title character for his 1991 novel American Psycho a nondescript Wall Street executive with twin obsessions, one masking the other: He's so skilled at wearing the right clothes, purchasing the correct furnishings, and dining at the most fashionable restaurants that everyone around him fails to notice his second career as a vicious serial killer. Audacious and memorable but deeply flawed as a novel, American Psycho arrives on the screen with its flaws and strengths intact, perhaps because director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) and co-writer Guinevere Turner's (Go Fish) adaptation remains surprisingly close to the source, minus most of its infamous gore. An almost unrecognizable Christian Bale stars, delivering a remarkable black-comic performance in the central role. Coming on like a narcotized Tom Cruise, Bale plays a character who's not really clever enough to get away with anything; he's simply too good at fitting in for anyone to notice. There's nothing the least bit romantic, transgressive, or appealing about Bale's murders, and he looks about as ill-suited to this sort of passionate abandon as he would if he ventured onto the dance floor at any of the trendy clubs he frequents. When Bale prefaces an ax-murder with admiring words for Huey Lewis & The News (he admires the group's "professionalism"), it's less the return of the repressed than the ultimate triumph of mediocrity. Harron wields a cold camera through it all, an approach that perfectly matches the material and her recreation of uptown New York circa 1987. Everything about her blacker-than-black satire goes well at first, but then it keeps going and going. An early shot of a perfectly coifed, immaculately attired Bale prowling an office corridor while joylessly listening to "Walking On Sunshine" on headphones reveals considerably more about the time and place he represents than the umpteenth murder can. Overkill and excess are built into the design of Ellis' novel and Harron's film, but both incarnations of American Psycho run out of things to say long before they reach their conclusion.
We may earn a commission from links on this page.
If Jesse Armstrong wanted Jeremy Strong to jump in a river, he would have put it in the script