The time is the nineteen-eighties, and Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a big shot Wall Street businessman, what many of the day would term a yuppie. He has an exacting regime that takes in exercising, personal grooming, and executive lunches arranged by his loyal but mousy secretary Jean (Chloë Sevigny), and he likes to make sure every aspect of his life is just so, even telling Jean what she should and shouldn't wear around the office. Yet all this moneymaking success in business and isn't enough, and his love life consists of being engaged to Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) while sleeping around behind her back. This isn't enough either, so what Patrick really likes to do of an evening is kill people...
Executive stress relievers were a big deal back then, and they probably are now too, but very few yuppies would go to the extremes that Bateman went to in his search to find a way of relaxing while still exercising his assumed right to have someone to look down on. And not only look down on, but keep in their place as well, which he does by bumping them off. American Psycho was adapted from Bret Easton Ellis' infamous novel by director Mary Harron and actress Guinevere Turner (who also appears as a victim), a project that many thought would be unfilmable.
This was because of the high levels of violence the novel described at great length, acts which Harron and Turner wisely decided to leave out of the movie version, because leaving them in would have turned the film into one of those slashers that its anti-hero loves to watch on video. Instead, the comedy is emphasised, a comedy of class and oneupmanship that Bateman and his go-getting friends indulge in. One of the highlights sees them comparing business cards as if they were laying down hands of high stakes poker, so when Bateman's offering is bettered, it's a crushing blow.
Bale has rarely been better here, bringing out his character's smarmy nature while hinting at a desperation that gradually rises to the surface as his lack of significance grows clearer. Everything to Bateman is a deal to be sealed, whether it's negotiating his way out of impending marriage or inviting prostitutes back to his place. The mindset that evokes his twisted worldview and resulting violence is amusingly close to the every man for himself capitalism that he pursues, and his dangerously psychotic behaviour is far more believable than any Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers.
That is probably down to the skill with which Bateman is fashioned, yet it's true that everyone else in the film is distinctly two-dimensional compared with him, perhaps due to the way he sees them. His potential nemesis, a detective played by Willem Dafoe who actually invites him out to lunch, is investigating the disappearance of Bateman's associate Paul Allen (Jared Leto), a man who the "psycho" has probably killed. I say probably because by the end even Bateman doesn't know if he really is a murderer or if those around him are so shallow that they really think Allen is still alive and someone they can have lunch with. That's the most disquieting thing about American Psycho, not the slayings, not the rhapsodising about Huey Lewis and Phil Collins, but that the most powerful in the U.S.A. have sold their souls for empty but valuable status. Music by John Cale.