The Machinist

2006-07-12 17:13


For Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale), a troubled loner who works as a machinist, life has become a waking nightmare. After nearly a year without sleep Trevor has lost 30kg and has begun to doubt his own sanity. Why can't he sleep? Trevor has no idea. His only refuge comes in the arms of Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a kind-hearted hooker who seems to be falling in love with him. But things are about to go from bad to worse. A stranger named Ivan (John Sharian) starts working at the factory and helps to cause an accident that costs a man his arm. Trevor is blamed for the accident but, when he points out Ivan's culpability, he is told that no such person exists. After he is fired from his job Trevor resolves to find Ivan, prove his sanity, and find out why he can't sleep.


As far as first-person explorations of memory and madness go, The Machinist is hardly startling in its originality. From Hitchcock classics like Vertigo to modern mind-benders like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Christopher Nolan's Memento (to name just a few) filmmakers have been delving into fractured realities for almost as long as film has been around. But what The Machinist lacks in originality, it makes up for in craft.

These kinds of psychological thrillers rely heavily on the quality of their screenplays. If you're going to be leading people down the rabbit hole, you'd best make sure that you have every detail of your story wrapped up. There's nothing worse than a puzzle that can't be put together because of sloppy workmanship. Luckily The Machinist is anything but sloppy. It's the kind of movie that you want to watch again, just so you can admire the elegance of the interlocking clues and symbols. Every detail has been carefully considered and equally carefully positioned.

Another vital element in such movies is the delicate balance between confusion and reward. It's fine for the audience to be confused for some, or even all of the movie, as long as they are rewarded at some point with a revelation - an "aha!" moment that cuts through the confusion like a knife. The reward in The Machinist is relatively satisfying, though perhaps a little too obvious considering the depths of confusion and paranoia into which the film delves.

To its credit The Machinist doesn't explain away every aspect of its revelation, so that you are left with a few tantalising ambiguities to puzzle over. Some may find this annoying, but the alternative would be like a magician revealing how he does his tricks - ultimately anticlimactic. The strength of The Machinist is that, whatever you believe the ending means, the internal logic of the film will support your conclusions.

Carefully crafted cinematography is another vital consideration in this sort of thriller. Spaniard Xavi Gimenez has done an excellent job of creating and maintaining the off-kilter reality of Trevor's world. Working with a stark, washed out palette and exploiting unusual angles and chiaroscuro lighting, Gimenez cultivates and magnifies the mood of unreality and confusion on which the script thrives. A horror movie veteran, Gimenez has spent two decades perfecting his distinctive style in movies like Intacto and Darkness.

Many people will watch this film simply to see Christian Bale's breathtaking emaciation for themselves. While this is certainly a spectacle worthy of a crowd - a man so thin he looks utterly alien, like a crab or a beetle - it's a testament to Bale's power as an actor that you soon stop paying attention to how thin he is and begin seeing him as the character he is playing. Instead of taking over the movie and turning it into a freak show, Bale's physical transformation is integrated smoothly into the fabric of the movie's bizarre and disturbing world.

The commitment of Bale's performance is matched by three excellent character actors. Jennifer Jason Leigh is an immensely likeable actress who always seems utterly at ease in whatever role she plays. Her combination of tenderness and toughness is beguiling, as is her willingness to play unusual parts (like Meg Ryan's slutty sister in In The Cut). The little known John Sharian brings a combination of charisma and menace to his performance, and Michael Ironside is as eminently watchable as ever. The only disappointment is Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, a Spanish actress who is a little stiff in her role as a kindly waitress who befriends Trevor.

Is it worth watching? Only if you're in the mood to be intrigued and surprised. This is about as far from feel-good rom-com as you can get. But if you enjoy this sort of thriller then you shouldn't miss it.

- Alistair Fairweather

Christian Bale lost 25 kilograms for his role in this mind-bending thriller. But does his extraordinary physical commitment to the role translate into an extraordinary film?

Jen 2006/02/16 8:38 AM
Guilt In your synopsis a line reads, "wasting away from lack of food" in reference to the physique of the character Trevor. A bit of a shallow observation maybe? The entire movie centre on the concept of being consumed by guilt. I thought it very interesting to see that as a physical manifestation. A bizarre but thought provoking movie.
Movies24 2006/02/18 9:50 AM
Great I'm looking forward 2 this one... saw-ii
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