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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

The Machinist (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Brad Anderson
Cast: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, John Sharian, Michael Ironside, Anna Massey, Larry Gilliard Jr., Reg E. Cathey, Matthew Romero Moore
2004 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence and disturbing images, sexual situations, nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 28, 2004.

Directed by Brad Anderson, "The Machinist" falls closely within the same psychological thriller genre boundaries as his last feature—2001's creepily unsettling "Session 9"—but isn't as tightly conceived or wholly realized. The film is stylishly grim and nervously intriguing for most of its running length, but concludes with an underwhelming, derivative whimper seemingly assembled out of the spare parts of filmmakers David Fincher, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, and M. Night Shyamalan. It never captures a fresh voice to call its own.

Because the entire picture hinges on key climactic revelations that pull the strange goings-on into focus, discussing the premise demands a certain vagueness. Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is a lonely, emaciated young man who claims to have not slept for a year. Slaving away at a machine factory day in and day out, Trevor's severe case of insomnia has started to get the best of him, starting with a rapid weight loss that has brought his six-foot frame down to 120 pounds. When an accident he causes with one of the machines severs coworker Miller's (Michael Ironside) lower arm one day, he is stricken with guilt. Soon after, ominously cryptic notes start appearing on the refrigerator door in Trevor's apartment, warnings he believes may be Miller's first step toward vengeance.

"The Machinist" holds the viewer in its grip almost to the very end, courtesy of a stark, vividly washed-out color palette by cinematographers Xavi Gimenez and Charlie Jiminez and a sense of tormented foreboding that director Brad Anderson lays thick over his exhausted lead character's head. Trevor Reznik is so tired, in fact, that it becomes questionable whether he is lucid or not, and whether what is occurring at any given time is real or simply a hallucination. "The Machinist" is drenched in such an unsure atmosphere, no more so than in the film's best and most disturbing scene, as a haunted house ride called "Route 666" Trevor goes on at an amusement park begins innocently spooky enough before transforming into a sickeningly perverse, violent, and sexually-laced exaggeration.

The main attraction of "The Machinist," and the thing receiving the most attention for good reason, is a mesmerizing performance by Christian Bale (2002's "Reign of Fire") that also happens to be physically awe-inspiring. Bale, a normally 190-pound actor whose buff physique was showcased in 2000's "American Psycho," dropped roughly one-third of his weight for this role as Trevor Reznik, and the results are ghastly. Looking positively skeletal, weak, and worn-out, there is no doubt Bale dedicated everything he had into the demands of his character, and the result is gripping, to say the least. This isn't just a case of fine acting; it is that rare instance when a thespian has flawlessly manifested himself into a a role, rather than played it. For 102 minutes, Christian Bale ceases to exist.

Warmly effective supporting performances break up the overwhelming darkness in the form of Jennifer Jason Leigh (2003's "In the Cut") and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon (2004's "I'm Not Scared"), as the two constants in Trevor's life—understanding prostitute Stevie, who yearns for intimacy from Trevor, and kind waitress Marie, who works at an airport cafe that Trevor frequents during the graveyard shift. John Sharian (2003's "Love Actually") also makes an indelible mark as Ivan, a mysterious machinist who works alongside Trevor's who is either a kindred spirit or has more sinister intentions.

Once all the cards have been laid out in the end, however, the fragile seams that make up the plotting of "The Machinist" alarmingly unravel. While certain eventual twists will be obvious from the get-go for anyone who has seen their fair share of mystery-thrillers, others are less predictable but not really surprising. They arrive in the form of a flimsy gimmick, less enraging than the one found in 2004's "The Village" but just as scattershot and undernourished. Most troubling, the film segues into a pointless exercise, rather than a fully-formed and gratifying narrative.

The idea behind "The Machinist" isn't a bad one—it has the potential to be quite powerful, actually—but the negligible way in which director Brad Anderson and screenwriter Scott Kosar (2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") handle it, pounding out a series of big disclosures one after the other and expecting the viewer to buy its superficial bag of tricks, is highly disappointing. Instead of oohing and aahing one's way out of the theater afterward, the viewer is more likely to feel gypped, wondering if that is really all there is to it. All of the moody ambiance in the world can't hide the fact that the picture is a knock-off of a lot of other directors' works, carried out with a noted creativity and depth that "The Machinist" lacks.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman