🎬 #10 Bat-e-man and Robbin'g
Rest assured that the two films this week are a bit more tasteful and sophisticated than the title of this edition. I’m definitely in a turn of the 21st century mood at the moment and the two choices fall within a year of each other just at that turning point. Both deal with men hiding a part of themselves. Both are set within complimentary worlds of high end living in New York - lifestyles made possible by success in the financial world. And each of them exhibit an ‘elegant’ filmmaking style that lets the story unfold with the swiftness and effortless-ness of an Amex Black Card payment.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: AMERICAN PSYCHO
2000 Dir Mary Harron
When I first saw this film I didn’t appreciate the satire on masculinity and greed in the 80’s financial world - I just thought it was weird and funny that the main character ran around in his underpants with a chainsaw and was visibly shaken at seeing a more stylish business card than his. The main character is Patrick Bateman. And he is our guide to the world of the young and incredibly wealthy bankers of New York City, whose sole purpose it seems is to get reservations at impossibly hip restaurants.
It was only after reading the novel and going back to the film later that I really appreciated it as a story of modern angst bank-rolled by capitalism, and the desperation of a man to fit in and feel something when he’s never had to feel anything real before. Someone split down the middle just as much as his victims turn out to be.
Little do his associates and friends know that beyond his perfect teeth, hair and Armani suit lies a man so deranged that he makes Jeffrey Dahmer look wholesome. He’s hiding a serial killer within and Christian Bale handles the almost duel roles effortlessly. Perfect as Bateman in charming mode and psycho mode, and disarmingly vulnerable, even empathetic when these two sides smash together in a workout and drug fuelled, sweaty paranoia. You can see how Bale landed the role of Nolan’s Bruce Wayne/Batman just 5 years later.
Mary Harron adapts the book pretty perfectly, given how truly dark and graphic it gets in novel form. She deploys simple but stylish framing, camera movement, production design and score to emphasise the sumptuous world of the elite that we find ourselves locked within. The editing and pacing as sharp as Bateman’s axe with the now iconic business card scene a perfect example of an editor’s skill. This film is more than a stream of meme-able scenes, handsome and beautiful co-stars and Whitney Houston love. It’s a reservation for two, opposite a man who - because he can have anything he wants - doesn’t know what he wants and it’s driving him insane. It’s extreme Affluenza. And it leads him to kill because at least then he feels something, maybe. One of the most touching scenes involves his date [played by Chloë Sevigny] coming over to his house. He has to turn her away after a brief stay because he fears he may ‘hurt’ her. His genuine feelings cut short by his compulsion to murder.
The repeated motif of reflections, half-covered faces all paint a story of a man living with two sides. While the contradictory, misunderstood words, the competing revelations and impossible turnouts all cement a world where Bateman and the powerful at large feel like they can get away with anything. Even hiding the depraved acts of their alter-egos, the manifestation of the desires that lurk deep within them. Can Bateman manage to hold unto his other side and keep it bound up in Armani, within his expensively decorated American Gardens apartment?
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 42 minutes of my precious life watching this? See beyond the meme as Bale and Harron deliver an impeccable tonal adaptation of one of the most controversial novels of the last 100 years, backed by restrained filmmaking and a host of A-list supporting talent, sit back and take a ride in 80’s New York and hope that you can leave Bateman’s alter-ego behind.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Apple TV and BFI Player*
Fact: Leonardo DiCaprio was originally meant to play the leading role.
FILM TWO: THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR
1999 Dir John McTiernan
Of all the directors I love, I didn’t expect John McTiernan to have two films in the first 10 weeks of the newsletter. But that’s telling, he’s a filmmaker that doesn’t let himself get in his own way - he doesn’t have an obvious signature, which is probably why no one uses the phrase ‘McTiernanian.’ That isn’t an insult - it’s a big compliment. Every project he turns to, he sets out the tools for that job and works on the story and it’s execution, like a mechanic - down and dirty in the details - servicing the right parts that make the story go. Almost unconcerned for the marks left by his machining.
Luckily he turned his hand to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, originally starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. A, for lack of a better word, glamorous and highly styled adventure in art thievery. A high wire act performed by a man purely for the excitement of doing it. In this way Brosnan’s Crown has a lot in common with Patrick Bateman. Both incredibly wealthy individuals uninspired by what the lifestyles they’ve created for themselves have to offer and so they must turn to something else for stimulation. Each character trying to keep their other side hidden from prying eyes.
Brosnan starts the film, his face mostly in shadow, revealing only small facets of it as he shifts under the uncomfortable probating of his analyst - played in a cameo role - by Faye Dunaway. This is a film in which the act of concealing is paramount. McTiernan’s camera revealing only parts of a face in extreme close-up for punctuation, forgeries posing as real paintings, long lens surveillance photography, a whited-out cctv screen, security gates and shutters all allude to the themes of a masked other side. A part of someone who no one else has access to - the unseen.
Rene Russo plays the insurance companies bounty hunter tasked with finding the painting that Crown stole. The two quickly become embroiled in a love affair as the title suggests. She is the one who knows what he’s done and she is also the only one who can bring something real into his life of expensive artifice. Like Bateman, Crown is looking for something real, even if he doesn’t know it, something that can breath life into his picture perfect bachelor’s life. Both Brosnan and Russo have fun galavanting in this opulent world, but they’re also a worthy pairing, playing a relatable love story even if the setting is far from it.
The dance of revealing too much too early in a relationship, the danger of vulnerability that comes with someone knowing something no one else does, plays out in a touching way - mirrored in the background of a heist thriller, where everything that was once concealed is now revealed in a show-stoppingly satisfying set-piece at the end of act 2. John McTiernan’s grasp on every aspect of the story brings us to this point, with the stylistic flourish of a final, masterful brushstroke.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 53 minutes of my precious life watching this? Keep on the edge of your seat as McTiernan paints a stylish and sumptuous picture of an art thief / banker who for once lets himself be seen by someone else, while they engage in a lavish but quite painful looking sex scene involving marble stairs.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon Prime and Apple TV*
Fact: In the ballroom scene, Crown is wearing a tuxedo but the white tie is undone, as is the shirt and jacket. This is because he was under contract to the Bond franchise at the time and couldn’t be seen wearing a full tuxedo in another film.