American Beauty v American Psycho

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Rose petals, business cards, plastic bags and Huey Lewis And The News – this battle has got it all. But which dark journey into the so-called American dream do you prefer? Read the arguments and decide.

Ross McG: American Beauty

You don’t get to tell me what to do ever again

Right, let’s get one thing straight. The floating plastic bag captured on video is lame. Really lame. But, apart from that, American Beauty is a fine movie. After its Oscar haul it became cool to criticise Sam Mendes’ super debut, but in truth the only contender that had any case to beat it to the prizes was The Insider, Michael Mann’s brilliant film in which Russell Crowe delivered arguably his greatest performance to date.

Putting a new twist on the subject of suburbia is no easy task and Mendes deserves great credit for his fascinating look at what goes on behind the white picket fence. Tightly written with well-drawn characters, American Beauty is a great watch, anchored by two stirring performances from Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. The lives, loves, hopes and deflated dreams of all the characters are poured on to the screen. It has a depth that American Psycho, for all its fun references to pop culture, cannot match.

Bath night was rubbish round Spacey's place

Bath night was rubbish round Spacey's place

Christian Bale is a revelation as the grotesque Patrick Bateman and the sooner he returns to edgier work like this the better. However, his performance never reaches the layers explored by Spacey as Lester Burnham. Spacey imbues Burnham with a defiant heroism and a real sadness – we are watching a man who has wasted his life and is trying to rectify it in his final days. In American Psycho, all you have is a guy who does sadistic things to women. It also gives the ultimate two-fingered salute to the audience at the end – did Bateman really do those things or was it all in his head?

American Psycho is fun and who wouldn’t want to chop Jared Leto into little pieces, but it relies on easy gags at the expense of Gordon Gekko wannabe yuppies. American Beauty’s humour makes you laugh harder at a gut level because it comes from the characters’ plight – catching your wife cheating on you while working at a drive-thru burger joint is horrible, yet it is also pretty funny. That your wife was cheating on you with the Real Estate King makes it even funnier.

So if you want to watch a narcisstic monster throw chainsaws at people – or not throw chainsaws at people, depending on how you interpret the plot – then stick on American Psycho. If you want a believable and gripping look into one man’s soul, on the other hand, then make some space for Spacey in your DVD player. American Beauty is dark, funny, uplifting and beautiful all at the same time. And not even a stupid plastic bag blowing in the wind can change that.


Ross McD: American Psycho

If you don’t shut your ****ing mouth, I will kill you

Here at RossvRoss, we talk a lot about ‘sleepers’ – films that perhaps don’t receive the kudos they deserve upon release, but do or will somewhere down the line. Films like The Big Lebowski, Children Of Men, or Doomsday. The opposite to a sleeper is an ‘early riser’ – films that get tonnes of praise on opening weekend but are found out later on.

American Beauty is an early riser.

Do you remember the hype that surrounded the release of this film? And for what? I know, it won a load of Oscars, but that was mainly down to a pretty weak field that year (Shyamalan nominated for best director? Phil Collins even won a statue that night).

American Beauty is exactly what that oh-so-parodied video of the plastic bag was: pointless, pretentious muck, directionless, flimsy and full of hot air. And not worth the 22cent government levy.


Do you want me to trash your lights?

American Psycho however is a totally unique film. It’s chilling and unnerving, yet completely hilarious at the same time. The graphic cocktail of violence, sex and mutilation using everything from axes to nail guns to chainsaws will have you turning pale one moment, while the next you’re laughing along as he checks out his awesome guns in the mirror while servicing some ‘hardbody’ from behind. The novel is so violent and sexually graphic that it has to be sold shrink-wrapped in some bookstores around the world – yet by the end we are not even sure if Patrick Bateman has ever even harmed a fly.

There are so many standout moments in American Psycho, from his rigorous and hypnotic daily workout regime, to his internal meltdown when he realises a colleague has a better business card than him, right down to the moment an ATM machine asks to be fed a stray cat. American Beauty’s best part is already labelled as such by Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham – him jerking off in the shower. It is the highlight of his day, and the whole film. Don’t try to feed me nonsense about Mena Suvari and a roof-full of rose petals – she’s just lucky this film was released before people realised she wasn’t that good-looking.

American Psycho is the film that made Christian Bale a star, and deservedly so. He portrays Patrick Bateman as meticulously and as focused as Bateman’s sit-ups, and he pulls that beautiful exterior/ugly interior off with aplomb. Spacey is good fun as Lester Burnham, but as I’ve said before, he’s just playing Kevin Spacey again – that deadpan, monotone delivery that seems to fit every one of his roles, either thanks to a very good agent or an audience that’s willing to forgive an emperor and his new clothes.

Now before you start throwing the spin-off argument at me, American Psycho 2: All American Girl had nothing to do with the original, besides a shameless stand-in Patrick Bateman complete with conveniently face-obscuring ice mask. If you want a proper spin-off, check out the surprisingly decent The Rules Of Attraction: James Van Der Beek’s character is Patrick Bateman’s little brother! Seriously!

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6 Responses to “American Beauty v American Psycho”

  1. I went into American Psycho with some trepidation as I did not enjoy the book. I found it plodding and annoying, but the film rises above that by overplaying the annoying to make it part of the grotesqueness of the character. It is played as if his attitude is worse than his killing and mutilation. The ending is perfect (I don’t know how it compares to the book as I didn’t finish it!) the ambiguity of his actions don’t redeem the character.

    American Beauty is still Sam Mendes’ best film and probably Kevin Spacey’s best performance. The film is truly brilliant, although on the surface it is just a suburban melodrama it is actually darker, more risky and more subversive than American Psycho that is so clearly a satire. This is a film that will age well and will be appearing in lists of people’s favourite films in a few years time. It is already in the top 50 on IMDB’s top films (between Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver).

  2. fo shizzle

  3. General Griervous Says:

    There’s no competition here, American Beauty is obvious oscar grabbing pretentiousness at it’s ugliest, American Psycho is one of the last true originals 2b seen in years. Its thought in English Literature classes as a modern reference 2d marquis de sade.
    I’d like to finish this comment but gotta go, T. Boone Pickens just walked inti my office.

  4. I really like both and they both scares me (yes even American Beauty… the end was intense). I watched American Psycho when I was 15 and it was my first horror/thriller movie and Christian Bale played so well his character that when I watch movies like “the prestige” or “batman” I see Patrick Bateman 🙂 I’ve also read the book and I really like it even if it’s quite extreme.

  5. I’m going to have to declare “American Psycho” the winner (in my mind, at least). I never use this phrase, but Christian Bale rocked it. Plain and simple. He made Ted Bundy look like a charmless loser (kind of). His line delivery is what tipped the scales for me, as did the fact that — as you said — Kevin Spacey played Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty.” Hey, I heart Spacey as much as the next “Usual Suspects” devotee, but he does tend to let his personality color his roles. Bale dissolves into them, and that makes a world of difference.

    M. Carter at the Movies

  6. American Beauty. Way better movie. Totally different, but deserved Best Picture.

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