Sexy psychopath Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) likes to take care of himself. Obsessed with appearance and social status, he works in mergers and acquisitions by day and murders and executions by night, while growing infuriated at the indifference of those around him.
Following a series of consumerist microaggressions, which include being mistaken for someone with a slightly worse haircut and failing to get reservations at the top Manhattan restaurant, he’s pushed to a mental state that makes Norman Bates look like Sano, and proceeds to do to his colleague what Philip Green did to the BHS pension fund.
Bale excels as the shallow narcissist, basing his performance on Tom Cruise, managing to be both scary and funny. The smart, ruthless Bateman has good looks and the trappings of respectability, which separate him from many-a grotesque movie monster. His wealth and social status allow him to hide in plain sight as the shallowness of those around him stops them seeing murderer just beyond the tip of their nose.
Meanwhile Bateman grows increasingly exasperated. While dead on the inside, he seems to be craving some kind of genuine reaction, even if it’s one of revulsion and horror. He excels in the corporate world, where his lack of genuine emotion and obsession with status are advantages, and the truth is everyone else is as self-absorbed as he is, he’s just the only one with a violent outlet. There’s a running gag that no-one can tell each other apart, so identikit are their lives, and yet Bateman is the one person who seems invested enough to remember people’s identities, and to notice the shallowness in everyone else, so in a way he’s the most sincere person in the film.
It’s excellently directed by Mary Harron, from the opening in which apparent blood spatters are revealed to be the dripped sauce of a fancy restaurant, to the iconic scene in which Bateman butchers Paul Allen (Jared Leto) to Huey Lewis and the News. And in spite of scenes which make for uncomfortable viewing, the camera averts its gaze for most acts of violence, preferring to leave it to the imagination and rely on psychological thrills over gore porn. In fact the scariest thing for me on a re-watch is that I’m now older than Bateman, and I’ve not killed half as many people.