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When Bret Easton Ellis wrote American Psycho in 1991, he received hate mail, death threats, and general denunciation by the mainstream media. He also had written one of the most incisive, pointed, and savage satires of American culture ever put to print. In 2000, a similar controversy (minus the death threats) accompanied the release of Mary Harron's film adaptation, starring Christian Bale as main character Patrick Bateman. Now, seven years on, the controversy may have diminished, but the film's power has not.
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is the ideal 80's American. Cultured, intelligent, detail-oriented, good-looking, and successful, Bateman has it all. He's engaged to Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon), and sleeping with Courtney (Samantha Mathis). He works at Pierce & Pierce on Wall Street, goes to the most fashionable restaurants and clubs, and kills people in his spare time. The film follows Bateman in his day to day routine, giving us a little insight into his thoughts, his feelings, and his murders.
American Psycho is a film about vacuous people. For Bateman, returning video tapes is as important--check that, more important--than his job. In fact, early in the film, Evelyn points out that Patrick has so much money through his parents that he could quit his job. Bateman stresses that he works to fit in. His whole world revolves around not just fitting in, but being the best at what he does. When he gets new business cards, he breaks out in a nervous sweat when a co-worker prefers someone else's card instead. He is utterly obsessed with his physical appearance, going to great lengths to look his best in all aspects. His friends, lovers, and others who frequent his social circle are just as shallow.
There is one vital difference between Patrick and those around him, of course. He sadistically tortures and murders people. Not that it matters much. Patrick Bateman lives in a world without consequences. Bateman kills a professional rival, Paul Allen (Jared Leto), and when a detective (Willem Dafoe) comes to investigate, he lets Bateman off the hook because he's incorrectly identified as being at a club the night of Allen's death. The reason for the mistaken identity is that everyone is so similar and so devoid of substance that no one can keep anyone else straight. In fact, the very reason Paul Allen lets Patrick get close enough to kill him is that he thinks Bateman is Marcus Halberstrom, another co-worker. Christian Bale understands what makes Bateman tick, and gives such a consuming performance that it still stands as one of the most accomplished of his career.
American Psycho is gory, but not gratuitous. There are scenes of torture, murder, drugging women, explicit sex, mentions of cannibalism, and an ingenious sequence with a chainsaw, but all of these are essential to the story and the satire. The film is an extreme condemnation of an increasingly extreme subset of American culture. And it's more relevant than ever. Yuppie culture hit its peak in the 80's, but it's never really gone away, and recent examples of corporate greed has made the film's message more clear than it was back when it first came out.
I have used the word "satire" several times in this review, so I should mention that this film is actually very funny. There are many quotable lines throughout the picture, some of them directly related to Bateman's homicidal tendencies, and others condemning that strata of society. For example, when Bateman attempts to break up with Evelyn late in the picture, she refuses, stating that the break-up would not work because they share the same set of friends. The criticism of the culture runs even deeper as it becomes unclear whether Bateman actually does the terrible things we're seeing. Either he's a serial killer that no one even thinks of catching, or he's so utterly bored and lost in the shallow nature of his world that the only way he can make sense of it is by constructing involved fantasies of rape, torture, and death.
American Psycho is a complex work, interweaving fantasy and reality, humor and drama, life and death. It's a film that, unlike the characters who populate it, is full of hidden depths. It is both essential viewing and at the same time not for everyone. It is daring, original, difficult, and absolutely brilliant.
The Blu-ray Disc:
American Pyscho was a low-budget film, and it's clear Lions Gate has done no restoration work on this MPEG-2 1080p 2.35:1 transfer. Right from the beginning, there's dirt on the print and the color palette looks faded. Blacks are murky and at times the contrast seems to have been dialed up. However, some scenes look stronger than others, with a more stable color spectrum and better detail. Overall, a mixed bag. On the plus side, I did not detect any compression artifacts or other digital image issues.
Lions Gate offers both DTS-ES 6.1 sound. Although listed as DTS HD on the box, this is not the lossless codec known as DTS-HD Master Audio, but rather standard DTS-ES as can be found on normal DVDs. The disc also features a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mix. Neither mix offers much variance from the other, as the film is front-heavy. Despite the brutal nature of Bateman's crimes, most of the film consists of dialogue. When we do get into the more graphic scenes, the soundstage does open up; the sickening thud as Bateman's axe goes into Paul Allen's sick is intensely satisfying, and we do get some nice directionality when Patrick pulls out his trusty chainsaw.
Lions Gate released American Psycho on DVD in a 2005 special edition, with a bevy of special features. This Blu-ray release ports over some, but unfortunately not all of these.
Commentary by director/co-writer Mary Harron: Mary Harron discusses her thoughts and recollections of the film after having not seen it for five years. Harron gives a fascinating look into the production of a film riddled with controversy before it even began, and also gives her thoughts as a female filmmaker working on a story that has been denounced by feminist Gloria Steinem (who happens to be Christian Bale's stepmother) as being misogynistic.
Commentary by actress/co-writer Guinevere Turner: Guinevere Turner also gives her thoughts, many of which overlap with Mary Harron's. However, she does have enough variation to make it also worth a listen. I just wish they had combined the two tracks.
Deleted Scenes with optional director's commentary: We get several scenes, some of them quite lengthy, most of them taken directly from the book (as was much of the film). All of them are well done and worth seeing, especially the ones that feature Bateman in bed. The commentary is also more than the generic "we cut this scene for pacing purposes" sort of thing. Harron actually takes the time to dissect the scenes we're watching. Interestingly, these are encoded at 1080i, but clearly taken from a 480p source.
The 80's Downtown: A bizarre collection of comments from several people chosen seemingly at random about the 1980's in general. A good portion of it has nothing to do with American Psycho (as the film is a critique of a specific type of mindset, not specifically an attack on the 1980's as a whole). Considering how little of this extra actually relates to the film, it is a major annoyance that Lions Gate chose to retain this instead of some major supplements on the production of the movie. Bad form, Lions Gate, bad form.
There are also 1080p trailers for some of Lions Gate's other Blu-rays. These are more than likely the reason that we couldn't get the other supplements from the DVD. I'm so glad I get to see the trailer for Crank, a film in which I have zero interest, in high definition instead of an excellent supplement on the making of American Psycho. Are you listening, Lions Gate?
American Psycho still has the power to offend and shock, but also the ability to provoke thought and examine our culture through a dark lens. While the sound and picture could be better, and not all of the available features are present, we do still have some substantial extras, and the film itself simply has to be seen. Highly Recommended
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.