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Movie Reviews

American Psycho  

Buzz, its a weird term used to describe movies before they are released; it's basically the hype that surrounds a movie and takes the anticipation to a maximum. It was one year ago while I was at the SXSW '99 Film Festival that I first heard of the buzz surrounding AMERICAN PSYCHO, partly due to the fact that Guinivere Turner, one of the screenwriters was a guest speaker during one of the panel discussions.
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Since then I have learned more about this adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel which seems to have garnered a strange cult status which has made the film all the talk. The adapted film was co-written and directed by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol). Needless to say, I too am affected by the contagious buzz around films, I was very eager to see AMERICAN PSYCHO. Late last month I received a workprint of the film, for technical purposes, I must let you know that this workprint had no music, sound effects, and had a very rough picture. Workprints don't affect my view of a film as long as it's good; too bad in this case I was bothered by the quality.

The film follows a white collared, Wall Street yuppie named Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale of Newsies fame. The film takes place in the 80's which is a good time frame considering the materialistic state of the country and economy. Patrick has everything he could ever want in his life, a high paying career, a fiancé, a nice apartment, and good looks; but the void in his life is that he has strong compulsive desires for aggressive sex and inventive yet gruesome murders which are fueled by his hatred of the world that surrounds him. His character is a bit confusing, his psychosis is that of an emotionally unaffected white male who despises everything and everyone, but contradicts himself in loving and exploiting his life. The only food and drink he has in his apartment is wine and sorbet, purely because the film is consistently taking place in high priced reservation only restaurants that Patrick frequents most often. He contemplates which weapon to use for some of the killings, using such weapons as a chainsaw, an ax, and a nail gun.

When he kills a colleague named Paul Owen, played by Jared Leto, he hides the body and disguises his voice to change Paul's answering machine message to say he would be in London for a few weeks. This causes Paul's fiancé to have an investigator look into his disappearance. Donald Kimbal, the investigator played by Willem Dafoe questions Patrick, and is very suspicious of Patrick because his story changes.

As the story slowly progresses Patrick relieves his hunger for sex and violence with prostitutes and murders. During these killings he precedes them with hammy inane monologue about 80's music from Huey Lewis and the News to Phil Collins which is so useless and absurd that it disgusted me more than any blood that proceeds it could. By the end of the film Patrick is more of a suspect to Paul's disappearance and while about to shoot a cat at an ATM machine, he kills an elderly woman who interrupts him. He is then chased by Police who hear the gunshots. During the chase he kills everyone who he comes in contact with and then kills the Police officers and blows up their car with an unrealistic gunfight. After the killing spree he hides in his downtown office from Police helicopters and leaves a message for his lawyer in which he says how he has killed Paul Owen and twenty to forty others, so many he had lost count.

The film ends when Patrick speaks to this lawyer who thinks the entire message is a joke, and Patrick gets very upset that this is so funny. The lawyer states how this is impossible because he had lunch with Paul Owen in London twice last week. This roughly suggests that his psychosis isn't real but only imagined, and if it is, then the filmmakers need to find new jobs because it makes the rest of the film even more benign.

The entire film is so confusing; the structure lacks a defined protagonist and if Patrick is the protagonist then who or what is the antagonist, his mind? There isn't enough information to truly assess it. Outside of Christian Bale the cast is very much an ensemble and featured such actors/actresses as Reese Witherspoon, Chloë Sevigny, and Samantha Mathis to name but a few. The problem was that none of these characters had very little involvement with the story, most had small bit parts that amounted to nothing but wasted time, thus there is no reason to even mention their roles concerning the story.

The dialogue throughout the movie is sparse, with the exception of the 80's music ramblings it was full of useless speaking. Dialogue is meant to move a story but in this film it just paused the story. Even the scenes with Willem Dafoe as the investigator were so minute that it barely moves the story. In fact, only one killing, an answering machine confession, and a conversation with a Lawyer move the story; and to where, I don't know.

A friend of mine told me that in order to understand this film then I should read the book, but why should I? Reading the book should not be a prerequisite to seeing an adapted movie, everything I need to know the film should tell me or at minimum guide me to an interpretation. This film did none of the above. It is a shame because the story of a psychotic, white collared, yuppie serial killer is very intriguing. The murders were terribly done; having them all occur off screen was a missed opportunity to make the audience uneasy with gore, or even to add suspense, something this film seriously lacks.

Patrick's selection of weapons was the only interesting part of the killings. The somewhat gratuitous sex scenes should have been more off screen, but unfortunately they aren't which slows the story down, granted it showed his aggressiveness and he even kills people while having sex, the scenes added nothing to the story and anyone eager to see them should just go to the adult video store. The film carries an NC-17 rating due to the sexual positions they use in the film, I don't understand the rating myself, the sex was not in any way pornographic, but quantity may have something to do with it.. I do not know if they will cut down the film for an R rating, I sure hope they don't, because NC-17 means a smaller audience in which case many wont have the chance to regret seeing this embarrassing piece of American cinema.

Outside of the story and structure the technical aspects of the film were poorly done as well. The editing, lighting, and camera had a cheap aesthetic feel, when it should have all been done on a grand scale. You can tell that none of the shots were clearly thought out, instead of worrying about good mis-en-scene the filmmakers concerned themselves with the bland yuppie appearance of the eighties, which of course the film needs, but too much so.

The filmmakers should have concentrated more on the characters and overall look of the film instead of the cheesy yuppie "appearance." Wasted time and wasted talent is the best way to sum up AMERICAN PSYCHO. The possibilities for this film are extraordinary but unfortunately the filmmakers did nothing with it. This film did have its quick and clever moments, but everything else about the movie, the writing, the acting and the directing just angered me because if any other director and writer had made this film I truly believe it would have the chance to be a masterpiece.

One rule of thumb to the filmmakers: Don't bore the audience. This film would be easier to watch if it was a short and not a feature. Black comedy, satire, horror, and suspense films are not easy to pull off, they require effort. The key word being effort. I am a true believer in that people should see movies to make up their own mind, but this film is so bad that I suggest to everyone that you don't waste your time seeing this very disappointing film.

Jason May

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