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review added: 10/2/00



American Psycho
Unrated Version - 2000 (2000) - Lion’s Gate (Universal)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

American Psycho: Unrated Version Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/C

Specs and Features

103 mins, NR, widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, featurette on the making of American Psycho, interview with Christian Bale, production notes, cast and filmmakers biographies, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

“I have to return some video tapes.”

Brett Easton Ellis’ highly controversial novel American Psycho finally made the transition to the big screen earlier this year. In the skilled hands of director Mary Harron, the book’s emphasis on horror and murder was lessened and replaced with a larger dose of dark humor. American Psycho is the type of film that upsets and turns off just as many people that enjoy its sharp wit. Like any film that dares to veer from the mainstream, American Psycho took a big beating from conservatives before it even hit the theaters. I found it to be a brilliant satire, and it’s well worth a viewing.

Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman, an enormously successful Wall Street broker whose obsession with keeping up appearances drives him to extremes. He has to have the best of everything – the finest suits, the most spectacular apartment view, the fanciest business card and the most beautiful (yet quietest and least intelligent) girlfriend. Whenever he feels his status is being challenged, he goes completely over the edge and commits some really nasty murders.

To say there’s a lot of violence in American Psycho would be an understatement (although compared to the book, this is Mary Poppins). It is disturbing, graphic violence, but it’s never glorified or shown to be anything more (or less) than it is. On the other hand, there’s a great deal of humor in the mix as well. This is a satire that explores the extreme sexism, narcissism and greed of the 1980’s, and it shows the absurdity of it all. For me, the humor in the film was the antidote to the violence. The humor wouldn’t be as funny as it is without the violence, and vice versa. Without the dark comic tone, American Psycho would be a depressing yarn that might otherwise be a real drag to sit through.

Bateman’s character is not dissected into a “why is he doing this?” sort of storyline, and the movie isn’t structured as a whodunit. There is the obligatory cop-on-his-trail part (Willem Dafoe), but he serves more as a vocal conscience and a sort of grounding tool for Bateman and his over the top antics. Without him as a reality check in the film, Bateman murdering a co-worker while extolling the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News would seem even more out there than it already is.

Along with Mary Harron’s strong, even-handed direction (she creates an ambiguous dream-like feel to the movie), American Psycho benefits from a core of competent, uniformly well acted performances. As the title character, Bale relishes every second of his horrific excesses and provides a memorable comic turn that few better-known actors would be willing to perform. Oscar nominee Chloë Sevigny is good as his trusting, overly-naïve secretary. Even when the evidence is right there in front of her, she still tries hopelessly to find the good in Bateman. Reese Witherspoon’s time on screen is shorter than her average role (it’s almost a cameo), but she provides some good laughs as Bateman’s society-obsessed fiancée. American Psycho isn’t an overly thrilling film, but its daring humor and colorful, social satire make it a completely guilty pleasure.

The 2.35:1 anamorphic print used for American Psycho is very clean and produces a solid picture that is free of most transfer-related defects. This print is the unedited version that restores a few seconds from a sex scene that were excised to avoid an NC-17 rating. All the violence in this film and the censors are worried about some harmless sex? Another "job well done" by the MPAA. But I digress. Edge enhancement in this video is kept to a bare minimum and artifacting is not really an issue. The black level of American Psycho is uniform and detailed. This black level gives rise to a picture that maintains a strong level of depth and avoids the slightly digital or grainy appearance that can result from an improper transfer. Flesh tones are warm and exact, as is the film’s large palette of bright, solid colors.

Audio is also excellent. There’s a nice field of sound here that makes the best use of the complete range of 5.1 audio mix. The .1 LFE end of the sound mix creates a lot of depth, which is most noticeable in the film’s music score. American Psycho takes place in 1987, and the soundtrack reflects the music of that era. The primarily electronic music sounds full-bodied and defined and complements the effects and dialogue track. I didn’t notice any weaknesses in the mix, nor was dialogue ever compromised. On the whole, the sound mix is not an extremely energetic mix, but it serves the movie well and creates an effective ambiance.

Universal took the basic route and gave us a compact set of features that only touch on the making of the film. Aside from the standard theatrical trailer, there are a few other extras on the disc. The interview with Christian Bale is perceptive and by all means watchable, but its short five-minute running length keeps it from being of any great consequence. The interview seems to be culled from a promotional press junket, and Bale addresses the issues of performing such a despicable character and separating himself from the role. The behind the scenes featurette runs about the same length of time, but talks with more of the people involved in the making of the film. Mary Harron, Willem Dafoe, and Chloë Sevigny all sit down for a quick minute or two to discuss their involvement in American Psycho. The biographies detail the major career highlights of a good portion of the cast and crew, and the production notes reveal a few more details about bringing the book to the screen.

American Psycho will no doubt turn some people off in the home video format the way it did in theaters. The DVD is no special edition, but the draw here isn’t the features - it’s the film. I think it’s a film that deserves to find a viewing audience, and it’s nowhere near as objectionable as audiences were led to believe. Yes, it’s violent... but there’s a point to the violence. Above all else, I found the humor to be the most memorable part of the movie, and it’s what’s made me see it more than once. If you like dark humor, it doesn’t get any darker, or any better than American Psycho.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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