Based on Bret Easton Ellis's notorious 1991 novel, American Psycho follows the life of rich, handsome, soulless 27-year-old stockbroker Patrick Bateman (a perfectly cast Christian Bale) as he cavorts with his fellow Manhattan yuppies during the greed-drenched late '80s (as opposed to the greed-drenched late '90s?), then goes on murder sprees when nobody's looking.
Director Harron and co-scenarist Guinevere Turner have stated on record that their primary task in adapting the novel for the screen was to remove most of the graphic violence, much of it against women, that sparked so much protest from feminist groups back in '91. Turner claimed that she and Harron were plagued by nightmares after reading the book's sickening murder scenes and thus had to remove them. Well, like them or not, those scenes are what made the novel so pointed and memorable in the first place; by reducing them to a few off-camera splashes of blood, the audience is prevented from being truly disturbed by anything the story has to say.
A larger problem, though, in adapting the book comes from gutting its first-person narrative, where Bateman endlessly categorizes everything in his life, from skin care products to designer wardrobes to the gory details of his crimes. The book is a hurricane of sex, drugs, anger, violence, paranoia, and name-dropping; reading it is an exhausting experience, but it shows how a serial killer might thrive in an environment of excess and emptiness: Patrick Bateman was both a product of and a reaction to his times. (Remember that the novel was written a mere three years after its 1988 timeframe; it was hardly the "period piece" that Harron has given us.) Without the nonstop narration, as headache-inducing as it was, the film can only show us Bateman's world – and what a dull world it is, cinematically speaking.
In the end, both of the common assessments of Ellis's novel are wrong: it's neither misogynist nor feminist. By focusing on these two non-issues, Harron has made a film that doesn't have much to say. At a time when young professionals are more in love with money and status than ever before, American Psycho reeks of missed opportunities.