American Psycho

USA/Canada 2000

Reviewed by Tony Rayns


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Manhattan, 1987. Patrick Bateman, a 27-year-old Wall Street broker, spends most of his time and substantial income on clothes, dining and clubbing. Notionally engaged to Evelyn Williams, he is having an affair with Courtney Rawlinson, the fiancée of his colleague Luis Carruthers. An avid consumer of drugs, pornography and prostitutes, Bateman fantasises murdering friends, rivals and strangers.

Upstaged at a board-room meeting by his colleague Paul Allen, Bateman works off his frustration by knifing a street-sleeper and later contrives to murder Allen with an axe. He lets himself into Allen's apartment and re-records the answering-machine message to say that Allen has gone to London. But when private investigator Donald Kimball begins enquiring into Allen's disappearance, Bateman grows nervous.

Events spiral out of control, at least in his mind. An attempt on the life of Carruthers (who is gay) is misinterpreted as an expression of closeted affection. He is deflected from murdering his secretary Jean when Evelyn calls at the crucial moment. A threesome in Allen's apartment with his friend Elizabeth and prostitute Christie turns into a chaotic bloodbath in which both women die. The shooting of an interfering old woman leads to a police chase through the night streets; Bateman kills a cop and at least two others before hiding in his office and calling his lawyer to confess everything. But when he next visits Allen's apartment he finds it being redecorated and up for sale. In Bateman's absence, Jean checks his private diary and finds doodled evidence of his psychosis. Bateman runs into his lawyer (who takes him for someone else) and learns that Paul Allen is indeed in London.


Psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est? The widely shared intuition that lousy books make good movies and vice versa finds a partial corroboration in Mary Harron's long-coming adaptation of American Psycho. Bret Easton Ellis' stream-of-unconsciousness novel maps its narrator's befuddled stasis in a miasma of designer labels, hard-to-get bookings in fashionable restaurants and psychotic fantasies. Resting on the thin conceit that an 80s Manhattan consumerist lifestyle would be the perfect cover for random serial killing and on a series of overplayed gags (identikit personalities lead to recurrent cases of mistaken identity, intense emotional crises are triggered only by fears of losing status in the food chain), the book runs out of shtick around the halfway mark but dances on the spot for another 200 pages. As a satire of a social phenomenon, it's no more cutting than the caricature of a braying, depraved yuppie in Naked.

Against the odds, Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner have succeeded in extracting a viable narrative screenplay from this plotless blank. Almost everything in their film comes from the book, but they have sensibly junked a huge amount: the recitations of designer brands, the taunting of beggars with banknotes, the obsession with a morning television talkshow, the 'ironic' ubiquity of Les Misérables in the background, the starved rat and most of the sex, violence and sadism. What's left is a brittle and stylised satire of Me-generation values rather conventionally structured as an escalation into madness.

The opening scenes sketch the norms and parameters of Bateman's life: platinum AmEx cards, the workless office, the Robert Longo painting, exfoliating skin creams, that kind of thing. Unsubtle pointers to his psychosis are dropped in sparingly at first but gradually allowed to take over the film until they climax in the night-time shoot-out with the cops on Wall Street, complete with exploding cars and circling helicopters like something out of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. The film presents its psychotic episodes as fantasies from the get-go (Bateman leaves trails of blood on his sheets, his walls and across the lobby of his W. 81st Street building without arousing suspicions), which turns Willem Dafoe's scenes as an investigating gumshoe into dramatisations of Bateman's paranoia and makes the closing scenes - in which Bateman is forced to confront the unreality of his dreams - more interesting than they otherwise would have been.

Thanks to excellent art direction and a set of self-effacing performances from those playing the yuppies, Harron captures late-80s vacuity better than she captured late-60s vacuity in I Shot Andy Warhol. She flatters the book by playing up its humour: the decision to turn into dialogue three of the book's interpolated critiques of MOR rock-pop stars (on Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston, all spoken while preparing people for the slaughter) was sort-of inspired, and the sex scene in which Bateman never stops admiring his own prowess in a mirror is genuinely funny. Christian Bale makes a fine co-conspirator in all this, presenting Bateman as a man on the cusp between braggadocio and a barely suppressed awareness of his own insignificance.

And yet the film doesn't work. Late in the game Harron brings in Ronald Reagan (seen defending the Iran-Contra scandal) to provide an objective correlative for the gap between surface and substance as found in the yuppie milieu generally and in Bateman in particular. But Bateman has insisted from the moment he started intoning voiceovers that he exists only as a cipher ("I simply am not there"), and so it's hardly a knockout conceptual punch to close the film with a threatening close-up of his eyes and a threatening assertion on the soundtrack that he has gained no insight into himself or catharsis from his experiences. The problem, again, is the book, an insurmountable obstacle. If Harron and Turner had set out to make a real movie on these themes, they would never have started from a script like this. As it is, they've come up with an ingenious adaptation, minimising the book's shortcomings and maximising its intermittent panache. But they remain prisoners of the smug and self-satisfied Bret Easton Ellis.


Mary Harron
Edward R. Pressman
Chris Hanley
Christian Halsey Solomon
Mary Harron
Guinevere Turner
Based on the novel by
Bret Easton Ellis
Director of Photography
Andrzej Sekula
Andrew Marcus
Production Designer
Gideon Ponte
John Cale
©Am Psycho Productions, Inc.
Production Companies
Lions Gate Films presents an Edward R. Pressman production in association with MUSE Productions and Christian Halsey Solomon
Executive Producers
Michael Paseornek
Jeff Sackman
Joseph Drake
Ernie Barbarash
Clifford Streit
Rob Weiss
Alessandro Camon
Line Producers
Victoria Hirst
Title Sequence Shoot:
Gretchen McGowan
Executive in Charge of Production
Lauren McLaughlin
Production Executives
New York:
David Daniels
Gregory Woertz
Jordan Gertner
Timothy Wayne Peternel
Creative Executives
Lions Gate:
Carrie Walkup
Zach Schiff-Abrams
Erin O'Rourke
Production Co-ordinators
Nancy Jackson
New York Unit:
Shell Hecht
Lions Gate Films Co-ordinator
New York Unit:
Katherine Rosin
Production Manager
New York Unit:
Peter Pastorelli
Location Managers
Michael Blecher
New York Unit:
Andrew Saxe
Philip Stilman
Deanna Strong
2nd Unit Director
Andrew Marcus
Assistant Directors
Andrew Shea
Jennifer Deathe
Cassandra Cronenberg
New York Unit:
Peter Pastorelli
Charles Zalben
Michael Pitt
Title Sequence Shoot:
Steve Apicella
Script Supervisors
Dawn Sorokolit
New York Unit:
Mary Kelly
Title Sequence Shoot:
Catherine Gore
Billy Hopkins
Suzanne Smith
Kerry Barden
Clare Walker
US, Associates:
Jennifer McNamara
Mark Bennett
ADR Voice:
Sondra James
Camera Operators
Paul Boucher
New York Unit:
Tom Houghton
Title Sequence Shoot:
Vince Vennitti
Don Cornett
Special Effects
Kavanagh Special Effects
New York Unit:
Conrad V. Brink Jr
Key Effects
John MacGillivray
New York Associate Editor
Philip Harrison
Art Director
Andrew Stearn
Set Decorator
Jeanne Develle
Costume Designer
Isis Mussenden
Wardrobe Supervisors
Patrick Antosh
New York Unit:
Michael Adkins
Hartsell Taylor
Key Make-up
Sandra Wheatle
New York Unit:
Margot Boccia
Key Hair
Lucy Orton
New York Unit:
John D. Quaglia
Title Design
Film Opticals of Canada
New York
The Effects House
Video Inserts
Roger Wong
Solo Piano
Eve Egoyan
Orchestra Conductor
Martin Goldray
Randall Woolf
Music Supervisors
Barry Cole
Christopher Covert
Music Editor
Jeff Wolpert
Additional Music Editing
James Flatto
Mishann Lau
Music Engineer
David Voigt
William Garrett
Music Consultant
Jeff Wolpert
Technical Music Consultant
M.J. Mynarski
"True Faith" by Peter Hook, Stephen Hague, Gillian Gilbert, Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris, performed by New Order; "Walking on Sunshine" by Kimberley Rew, performed by Katrina and the Waves; "Simply Irresistible" by/performed by Robert Allen Palmer; "Paid in Full (Coldcut remix)" by Eric Barrier, William Griffin, Benny Nagari, performed by Eric B. & Rakim; "Music for 18 Synths" by/performed by Sheldon Steiger; "Secreil nicht" by Mediaeval Baebes; "I Touch Roses" by Theodore Ottaviano, performed by Book of Love; "Everlasting Love" by Crispin Merrell; "Ya llegaron a la luna" by Santiago Jiménez, performed by Santiago Jiménez Jr; "Cuatro milpas" (trad), arranged by Francisco Gonzalez; "Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis, Bill Gibson, Sean Hopper, performed by Huey Lewis & The News; "Suicide" by/performed by John Cale; "Lady in Red" by Christopher John Davison, performed by Chris De Burgh; "If You Don't Know Me by Now" by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, performed by Simply Red; "In Too Deep" by Phil Collins, Tony Banks, Michael Rutherford, performed by Genesis; "Sussudio" by/performed by Phil Collins; "Pump up the Volume" by Martyn Young, performed by M/A/R/R/S; "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)" by Paul Jason Robb, Kurt H. Larson, performed by Information Society; "Red Lights" by Toby Anderson, Julian Godfrey Brookhouse, Martin Bene Drummond, Ben Volpelière-Pierrot, performed by Curiosity Killed the Cat; "The Greatest Love of All" by Linda Creed, Michael Masser, performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra; "Try to Dismember" by/performed by M.J. Mynarski; "Something in the Air (American Psycho remix)" by David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, performed by David Bowie, additional production/remix: Mark Plati; "Who Feelin' It (Philip's Psycho mix)" by Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, performed by Tom Tom Club; "Watching Me Fall (Underdog remix)" by Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Perry Bamonte, Jason Cooper, Roger O'Donnell, performed by The Cure; "Trouble" by/performed by Daniel Ash; "Deck the Halls", "Joy to the World"
Sound Designers
Ben Cheah
Paul Urmson
Sound Mixers
Henry Embry
New York Unit:
Bernie Zuch
Supervising Re-recording Engineer
Daniel Pellerin
Re-recording Engineers
Peter Kelly
Keith Elliott
Mark Zsifkovits
Supervising Sound Editor
Jane Tattersall
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Fred Brennan
Dialogue Editor
Garrett Kerr
Sound Effects Editor
David McCallum
Andy Malcolm
Goro Koyama
New York, Additional:
Marko Costanzo
New York, Engineer:
George A. Lara
Ron Mellegers
Andrew Tay
Pro-Tools Operators:
Rebecca Wright
Anna Malkin
Food Co-ordinator
Johanna Weinstein
Food Stylists
Peter Blakeman
Ron Donne
Title Sequence Shoot:
Rick Ellis
Stunt Co-ordinators
Matt Birman
New York Unit:
Frank Ferrara
Gun Handler
Frenchie Berger
Pig Wrangler
Jane Conway
Christian Bale
Patrick Bateman
Willem Dafoe
Donald Kimball
Jared Leto
Paul Allen
Josh Lucas
Craig McDermott
Samantha Mathis
Courtney Rawlinson
Matt Ross
Luis Carruthers
Bill Sage
David Van Patten
Chloë Sevigny
Cara Seymour
Justin Theroux
Timothy Bryce
Guinevere Turner
Reese Witherspoon
Evelyn Williams
Stephen Bogaert
Harold Carnes
Monika Meier
Reg E. Cathey
homeless man
Blair Williams
waiter 1
Marie Dame
Kelley Harron
Patricia Gage
Mrs Wolfe
Krista Sutton
Landy Cannon
man at Pierce & Pierce
Park Bench
Catherine Black
Margaret Ma
dry cleaner woman
Tufford Kennedy
Mark Pawson
Humphrey Rhineback
Jessica Lau
Lilette Wiens
maître d'
Glen Marc Silot
Charlotte Hunter
Kiki Buttingnol
Joyce Korbin
woman at ATM
Rueben Thompson
waiter 2
Bryan Renfro
night watchman
Ross Gibby
man outside store
Christina McKay
young woman
Allan McCullough
man in stall
Anthony Lemke
Marcus Halberstram
Connie Chen
Gwendolyn Ichiban
Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
9,129 feet
101 minutes 26 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour by
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011