Review: American Psycho (2000)

Review: American Psycho (2000)

Director: Mary Harron

Writer: Mary Harron (screenplay), Bret Easton Ellis (novel)

Stars: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Chloe Sevigny

American Psycho, Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ literary smash of 1991, is hilariously violent and shockingly satirical.  Early in the film, as the movie’s protagonist Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) rides in the back of a luxury town car with his fiancee Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), she asks him why he stays in a job he professes to hate.  Bateman’s response, delivered with furious intensity by Christian Bale, perfectly encapsulates one of the film’s central theses:  “Because I want to fit in.”  This sentence’s last two words are delivered with withering severity, and this seems to show that beyond its indictment of toxic masculinity, this film shows us a creature shaped from the ground up in a world of excess, depravity, and most consequently, fear.

Bale’s performance, which for my money is the best of his exceptional career (so far), shows us a character who is at once the master of all he surveys and a frightened child locked in a tall tower.  The interplay between these aspects of Bateman’s character provides the grist for much of the drama in the film, as well as most of the comedy, which is endlessly hilarious.  In what has become the film’s most famous scene, the coworkers at Bateman’s place of work are showing their business cards to one another, and when Bateman asks to see Paul Allen’s card, he is unprepared for the effect it has on him.  “Look at that subtle off-white coloring, the tasteful thickness of it,” as Bale performs this inner monologue, his voice has an almost sexually dusky nature.  When he finishes analyzing this superior business card, Bateman is shaken by the sight of it, and recoils into himself so much so that one of his coworkers inquires whether he is okay.

In this scene, Harron shows us the true weakness at the heart of corporate culture, and displays the power of envious spite.  This structural bitterness first shows itself violently when Bateman (Bale) attacks Paul Allen (Jared Leto) with an axe, concluding his hilariously vain review of the album Sports by Huey Lewis and the News.  After this first swing of the axe, during which Bateman was victim of his own psychopathy, he continues to chop Paul as he expresses the true motivation behind his violence.  “Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!”  Lines like this, hilarious and pointed, exemplify what I feel is at the center of the film; that unjustly privileged men, elevated more by their pre-determined place in society than by effort or talent, are liable to become deranged when faced with the reality of their own inadequacy.

American Psycho, both the novel and the film, stand as bristling critique of American society.  As it comes to sex, Ellis’ novel exposes the the animalistic savagery inherit in male urges, and Harron’s film shows the way easy satisfaction of all desire can result in escalating aberrant behavior.  Beyond any broader social points the film makes, it cannot be denied that this movie, and Christian Bale’s star-affirming performance in it, are as entertaining and thought provoking as any film of their era.

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Review: American Psycho (2000)

Movie review: Election (1999)

Election

Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne (screenplay) Tom Perotta (novel)

Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein

Movie is currently available on Netflix streaming

Alexander Paine’s Election (1999), a portrait of small-town high school politics is hilarious, realistic, and in the end very meaningful.  In the center of the film is a remarkable, rigidly intense performance by Reese Witherspoon.  She plays Tracey Flick, a High School student who’s commitment and ferocity distinguish her from her classmates, and she knows it.  Her character’s mask of cheeriness, along with her inexhaustible supply of energy, bring her into conflict with her high school social studies teacher, Jim McCalister (Matthew Broderick).

Broderick plays the ostensible protagonist of this story, and his self-serving inner monologue (which all four main characters also have) makes a comical juxtaposition with his callous actions.  He knows that Tracey Flick (Witherspoon), his most committed student, would surely win the titular election, and he feels he cannot let that happen.  In order to defeat Tracey in the election, he selects the student who is most clearly Tracey’s opposite, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), to run against her.

Paul Metzlerl is absolutely brainless, but his heart is the size of a mountain.  At night, as he lies in bed with his hands folded over his chest, he prays “Please help her (his sister) to be a happier person ‘cause she’s so smart and sensitive and I love her so much.”  The sweetness in Chris Klein’s performance is hilarious and heartwarming, creating a nice counterpoint to Jessica Campbell’s perfectly centered performance as the film’s only truly sympathetic character, Paul’s younger sister Tammy Metzler.  Tammy Metzler, who’s inner monologue we could most easily imagine coming from a real teenage girl, acts as the audience’s true surrogate.

All these characters are woven into a complex tableau of small-town debauchery and the worst of intentions into a simple, short, magnificent film.  As negative as this film’s portrayal of small-town “values” and extremely selfish people, disguises in itself what I believe is a soft heart.  In the end, I believe Election is a sort of ethical treatise, and one that sees all its characters get their just desserts.  Election is hilarious, layered, and brilliant.  I recommend you see it.

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Movie review: Election (1999)