American Psycho (2000) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (20th April 2007).
The Film

The book “American Psycho” from author Bret Easton Ellis caused an uproar when it was released on 1991. Lengthy, very detailed murder and torture scenes, along with sex was something that shocked the readers - after all it was from a respected writer. Since many victims in the book are women, some feminist groups protested against the author and there were even death threats. What made things more confusing was the fact that the book was very well written, full of irony and strange humour - a perfect satire of the high life in the 1980s. Extreme violence was just one part of the well-planned puzzle. It was also a best seller and I was among the many who just had to read it back then (partly because of its reputation, I admit it). I can´t (for better of worse) remember that much from the book anymore, but the word “un-filmable” comes to mind. How do you make a film about it, without making it ultra-sleazy and a mean-spirited gore-fest? Or the flip side of the coin; How to make a film about it with only minor violence? The difficult project started to circulate in Hollywood and after the rising superstar Leonardo DiCaprio dropped out for various reasons, the film was finally made by the Canadian born co-writer/director Mary Harron. Instead of DiCaprio, another future star Christian Bale (e.g. “The Machinist AKA El Maquinista (2004)”, “Batman Begins (2005)”, and “The Prestige (2006)”) stepped into the demanding role of Patrick Bateman and many gifted young actors took the smaller roles. Welcome “American Psycho (2000)” - the movie.

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a yuppie. This word is partly forgotten now, but it´s what the 1980s was all about. Young, cocky and often very superficial men “made it big” in the places like Wall Street and money was pouring in. Tailored suits, nice cars, expensive meals, women and active social life kept the yuppies going and I guess some of them actually did some work. Bateman has the inner circle of similar friends - all with a perfect tan, all “vice presidents”; Timothy Bryce (Justin Theroux - e.g. “Mulholland Dr. (2001)” and “Miami Vice (2006)”), Craig McDermott (Josh Lucas - e.g. “A Beautiful Mind (2001)” and “Poseidon (2006)”) and David Van Patten (Bill Sage). These men wake up to exercise and use skin moisture, go to the office, then to lunch and later on to dinner and in the nightclubs. Probably 7 days a week. Sometimes they do cocaine, sometimes cheat their girlfriends, sometimes return videotapes. Whatever they do and wherever they go, it´s always for themselves - anything to stimulate their greed of money, success, drugs, sex, competitiveness and male bonding. Anything to kill the boredom. Women are also one driving force and Bateman has several in his life; naïve “girlfriend” Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon - e.g. best “Actress in a Leading Role” Oscar for “Walk the Line (2005)”), good natured secretary Jean (Chloë Sevigny - e.g. “Big Love" (2006-)” TV-series) and lithium-taking mistress Courtney (Samantha Mathis - e.g. “The Punisher (2004)”). And probably countless one-night stands and even hookers. Big decisions such as table reservations (hopefully to the ultimate, yet always fully booked, dining place; “Dorsia”) and questions like “which has the greatest business card?” are filling the days of Bateman and his friends. The boat is rocked, when the young “superstar” of the business world, Paul Allen (Jared Leto - e.g. “Requiem for a Dream (2000)” and “Lord of War (2005)”) is getting too aware of his status, irritating the hell out of Bateman.

Patrick Bateman is also an emotionless serial killer. Sex is just a basic need, food is only a habit, money is just a minor stimulator and work is only a facade. It´s the pain of others, blood and the rush of killing that really makes Bateman feel truly alive. Anything else is just passing time. Even his other love, pop music, is in second place. It can be the random homeless man on the street or the colleague he despises, but mainly the victims are innocent females, usually lured into his apartment for sex, but sometimes they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bateman is handsome, attractive and polished, which is often more than enough for the ladies in his circles. He exploits that and part of the fun for him is to be wanted, to be interesting. Even the killing must happen in the right mood and usually also at the right time. It has to be insane and ruthless, but it has to be satisfying. Everything has its time and place - even blood. So this is the life of Patrick Bateman; a successful yuppie on the outside - with plenty of friends, colleagues and ladies, and a murderous maniac on the inside - with only his dark mind and bloody fantasies. Detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe - e.g. “Platoon (1986)” and “Wild at Heart (1990)”) is starting to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the man close to Bateman. Is this something that can reveal the true nature of him? Or - even stop him?

“American Psycho” is a solid package, considering the difficult source material. The irony and humour is there and most of the times it works. Many scenes are exaggerated (like the fact that Bateman doesn´t do any actual work in his office or anywhere else), but it´s also intentional. Also the performance by the actor Christian Bale is sometimes on the edge of becoming too comical, but only just. Bale is a versatile actor and does a great job in this film. Generally, the film is smiling to the whole 1980s and the “Reagan Years” in America (the film is not political, though), but doesn´t try to portray a fully accurate picture from the era. It´s like a twin brother of “Wall Street (1987)” on drugs. Also the “first person narration” (the style of the book) suits the movie well, since it doesn´t go overboard with the use of it. The film is tightly focused on Bateman´s life, which is an odd mixture of reality and fantasy - everyone can decide which is which. In the end the viewer will be more and more drawn to his twisted mind and to feel his chaos. The film has a few violent scenes, but mostly the killings are cleverly shown with selected hints and via editing. You get the first clue on the opening scenes at the club and slowly the signs are more and more visible. And then comes the chainsaw. The film still never crosses that “line” where it would become exploitation and this is not a typical serial killer-film. “American Psycho” is essentially about the extreme vanity and complete emotional numbness that people can feel - also in real life, only disguised as a satire and fantasy by exaggerating everything to the certain point and also confusing its audience. It´s giving some social commentary, but most of it is hidden - under the mask of sanity of Patrick Bateman. Like he says in the film, his mask is about to be dropped…

Video

“American Psycho” is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen (1080p 24fps) and is using MPEG-2 compression. The transfer doesn´t look bad, but it´s a somewhat mixed pack; a certain amount of film artifacts/dirt - with grain - are visible, and black levels tend to lean slightly on the murkier side of the spectrum. The transfer has also a fair share of edge enhancement and the look is processed more than fully natural. Skin tones looked to be more brown-ish, but I have no DVD-release to compare. There are minor gripes on several departments of the transfer, so the transfer is more mediocre than eye-popping, at least in the scale of HD-releases. The cinematography also strikes as unnatural in some scenes, mainly because there´s lot of light and everything looks glossy - “commercial style”, like the director Harron says in the commentary. This is still also intentional; an artistic choice by the filmmakers. Bitrate seems to be around 18-20 Mbps.

The Blu-ray -release includes the “Unrated”-version of the film - running 102:02 minutes. This version includes approx. 20 seconds of additional material in the more explicit “threesome scene”. This should be the only addition. The film is using “BD-25”-disc and there are 16 chapters. Note, that the disc is confirmed to be "Region A" (packaging states disc is "Region 1”).

Review equipment: Sony Bravia KDL-40W2000 LCD (1080p) + Playstation 3, via HDMI cable.

Audio

The disc includes two audio tracks; English DTS-HD High Resolution 6.1 ES matrix and English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (in 640 Kbps). I watched the movie with DTS-HD track, which was downconverted from 3039 Kbps to 1536 Kbps DTS (equal to “full bitrate” DTS from the selected standard DVDs). At this point my receiver can´t support the full DTS-HD-audio, but fortunately the HD tracks are backwards compatible. My receiver also indicated, that the track was “ES matrix”.

The track is pleasant and the dialogue is clear, but it´s not necessarily a huge surround-experience. The film comes alive in several scenes with the 1980s mainstream music (depending on the scene, sometimes pumping full on and sometimes intentionally “muffled” if it´s coming from Bateman´s walkman) and the “chainsaw-scene” was a pleasant surprise. Few directional cues are also included, but many times the film is quite straightforward and dialogue-driven. English and Spanish subtitles are also included (there are no English HoH subtitles). So far “Lionsgate” have been using “DTS-HD High Resolution” (not Master).

Extras

The Blu-ray-release duplicates many extras from the standard DVD, but the long “American Psycho: Book to Screen”-documentary is mysteriously missing, as well as a few PR-featurettes from the older R1-release. There are no “HD exclusive” extra features and no subtitles for the extras. Note, that although some of the extras are encoded in 1080i HD, they´re probably taken from the 480p-source (at least “Deleted scenes” looked very soft and compressed).

-First Audio commentary is with co-writer/director Mary Harron, recorded in 2005. Harron gives plenty of good info about turning the book into the film and about the different characters and themes. Harron had a clear goal in her mind with the film, which paid off in many ways. There are a few tidbits from the actual production - including locations (mostly shot in Toronto, with a few selected scenes in New York), actors (Christian Bale did some serious exercise for the role and followed a strict diet), shooting style (Harron likes to shoot plenty of material and many takes) and influences (you can find some references to Kubrick and she also mentions the movie “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie AKA Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972)” from Luis Buñuel). She also tells that the music clearance wasn´t easy, so e.g. “Greatest Love of All” instrumental is not the original Whitney Houston version. Harron also clears the rumours, which have implied that the character of Paul Allen (Jared Leto) would be based on the co-founder of Microsoft. This seems to be consequence. Harron focuses more on the story and the style of film rather than the actual production anecdotes, but this is a quite informative commentary nevertheless.

-Audio commentary with co-writer/actress Guinevere Turner is somewhat repetitive when compared to Harron´s, mainly because both are screenwriters of the film (not sure why these are recorded separately in the first place). Turner also talks mainly about the book, story and the characters, since she was on the set only at selected times. She is quite frank is her comments, using some curse words and talks more like an outside observer. Turner explains some of the more subtle 1980s references from the film and talks about the actors (e.g. Christian Bale really turned into Bateman during the film, got isolated from the rest of the group and lost his English accent momentarily). She of course talks about her own scenes from the film (she played “Elizabeth”) and how Bale ran around only with a sock on his private parts, waving the chainsaw. Turner also gets to say her opinion of the sequel “American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002)” and you can guess that she´s not a fan of the film (can´t really blame her). Ironically, later in her career Turner wrote the screenplay for “BloodRayne (2005)”.

-Five deleted scenes (in 1080i - 12:19 minutes) include optional Audio commentary by co-writer/director Mary Harron. Before each segment, brief interview excerpts are also included from the selected actors.

1) “People . . . Wanna Get Caught” (3:06 min), with interview by Willem Dafoe.
Bateman is meeting Detective Kimball at the club. The sound mix is not finished, so the music is missing.

2) “I'm Leaving” (3:09 min), with interview by Justin Theroux.
Bateman and Bryce at the club, where Bryce is making a minor scene. Again, the music is missing (good scene to demonstrate how the actors have to pretend like the music would be pumping loud in the background).

3) “You Want Me to . . . Floss with it” (1:51 min), with interview by Reese Witherspoon.
Bateman and Evelyn talking in bed. Bateman wants some more than just talk, but Evelyn has no interest.

4) “Is it a Receptacle Tip?” (3:00 min), with interview by Samantha Mathis.
Bateman and Courtney having sex. Courtney gets irritated with Bateman, so she suddenly stops the “action”.

5) “Never Date a Vassar Girl” (1:11 min), with interview by Jared Leto.
Bateman and friends talking in the limo. McDermott talks about the “Vassar girl”.

-“The 80s: Downtown” -documentary (in 1080i - 31:46 minutes) is a pretty interesting piece of New York City in the 1980s. Authors, journalists, columnists and such appear as “talking heads” to tell their recollections about the wild era. It focuses on the artistic and writers point of view, so it doesn´t really serve well to those who want to hear some heavy historical facts or political issues. You´ll hear from MTV, clubs and nightlife, money, over-hyped art circles, sex clubs, yuppies, clothes, Joy Division and John Lennon´s murder. People also talk about the “darker side” of the era with the fear of new killing disease AIDS, crack and cocaine, the stock market crash in the 1987 (“Black Monday”), the rising rents in the area and just the general “denial” that often went on - people just wanted to party and make money and close their eyes from the “bad things”. Also the “Reagan Years” weren´t the most happiest times for many (funny bit is how they remember Nancy Reagan and her naïve “Just Say No” campaign against drugs). The documentary is not really film related and the only member from the cast & crew is co-writer/actress Guinevere Turner, giving a few brief comments. You still recognize the “feel of the film” from some of the stories, so the documentary is definitely worth a look.

Some bonus trailers are also included (in 1080p - running 4:32 min): “Crank (2006)”, “The Descent (2005)”, and “Saw III (2006)”. This disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.

Overall

I feel that the fans of the original book should be quite pleased to the film version of “American Psycho”, since it finds the essence of the story and it´s not just “another serial killer” film. Some horror-fans (not familiar with the book) might be disappointment, but the blame is mostly theirs, if you ask me, since the story is much more than just bloodletting. The Blu-ray -release offers a good selection extras and decent transfer, but fails to be really anything that special.

For more info, please visit the homepage of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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