Bret Easton Ellis wrote American Psycho as a satire of New Right economics of the 1980s. On one hand, the book comes littered with lists of designer items deliberately placed to indicate an excess of conspicuous consumption. Contrasted against this comes the extremely sadistic slaughter of those who were seen as socially disposable (the homeless, prostitutes) and the less socially sophisticated. (Bret Easton Ellis and Mary Harron are not the only ones to make such connections the film The Banker (1989) also had a yuppie financier on the rampage, albeit with less startling use of the metaphor, while the action films Hard Target (1993) and Surviving the Game (1994) show a bored elite hunting the homeless).
In the film, Mary Harron and screenwriter Genevieve Turner effectively strip the sado-pornographic excesses of Bret Easton Elliss novel, while also remaining remarkably faithful and indeed more subtly refining the books bite. In fact, you could more than reasonably argue that American Psycho emerges as a better film than it does a book. Harron and Turner even remain faithful to Bret Easton Elliss atmosphere of mid-1980s yuppiedom the cellphones are all big, clunky 80s models; Ronald Reagan attempts to whitewash Iran-Contra on tv; and of course Elliss lectures on Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston are all preserved in toto from the book. (With seeming lack of awareness that they are being satirically skewered, both Huey Lewis and Phil Collins allow tracks from their albums to play on the soundtrack. The sole dissenter is Whitney Houston, although her rendition of The Greatest Love of All is replaced by a symphonic interpretation).
The film has a genuine minatory bite. Mary Harron has a sense of black humour that lurks and unexpectedly lunges, ducking around the audience and delivering blows when you least expect it. Harron looms her camera into unnerving closeup on Christian Bale you are never sure when he or the film is going to explode into psychotic violence or say something hysterically deadpan or both at once. There is an hilarious scene where Bale brings Jared Leto back to his apartment then puts on a plastic raincoat over his suit, brings out a shining, brand-new axe and hacks Leto up screaming You got a reservation at Dorseys, all the while offering an appreciative critique of Huey Lewis. There is a marvellous scene where Christian Bale invites Chloe Sevigny back to his apartment and Mary Harron keeps throwing pop-up effects at us heads in the fridge when Bale goes to get her a sorbet, he placing a nailgun up against her head from behind as she sits unaware and then turning away from expectation they being interrupted by a phone-call from his fiancee, which visibly deflates Sevignys hopes that this is something more, ending on a wonderful dialogue that takes place on two levels of meaning simultaneously where she talks about not wanting to be hurt by him. Mary Harron and Genevieve Turner also write a mesmerizing series of voiceover monologues from Christian Bale.
The films oddest addition to the book is the suggestion near the end that none of this is real that Patrick Bateman is only a fantasy of someones inadequacy complex and that no killings occurred. It is a disorientating revelation that strongly resembles the one that came at the end of Fight Club (1999) with its surprise revelation that Brad Pitt was a figment of Edward Nortons imagination. Indeed, both American Psycho and Fight Club are very similar films they both hammer away with a satiric attack on conspicuous consumerism and seem to show frustrated yuppies developing violent alter egos to compensate for their own inadequacies. The two films would make for a perfect double-bill. In Fight Club the surprise revelation about the alter ego was disorientingly left field and it is no less so here indeed even more so for Mary Harrons uncertainty about it, with she leaving one never entirely sure at the end whether the title character was real or not. This aside, the film is a splendidly roguish piece of savagery.
American Psycho was followed by an infuriatingly bland sequel American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002) wherein Mila Kunis plays the woman who killed Patrick Bateman as a child and becomes psychopathic herself while at college.
Mary Harron had previously made the fine, incisive I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) based on the life of Valerie Solanas and went onto make The Notorious Bettie Page (2006) and the vampire film The Moth Diaries (2011).
Bret Easton Elliss works have also been adapted as the films Less Than Zero (1987), The Rules of Attraction (2002) and The Informers (2008), while he has also written the original screenplays for The Canyons (2013) and the horror film The Curse of Downers Grove (2015) in which a teenage girl has her life terrorised by a revenge-seeking jock.
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2000. Winner Best Adapted Screenplay, Nominee for Best Director, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actress (Chloe Sevigny) and Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 2000 Awards).