The Machinist (2004) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexuality, brief nudity and language
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Sharian, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Michael Ironside, Larry Gilliard, Reg E Cathey, Anna Massey
Director: Brad Anderson
Screenplay: Scott Kosar
Review published January 20, 2004

Christian Bale's 60 lb. weight drop is extraordinary, but ultimately the film he starves himself for proves to be a familiar paranoid thriller that will probably only be remembered for the unhealthy look of its star.  The Machinist isn't a bad film by any stretch, just a derivative one.  As a dour mix of Dostoevsky's novels like "Crime and Punishment" and "The Idiot" (which gets a worthwhile allusion in the film), and the surreal mysteries of psychological illness as explored in Jacob's Ladder or Fight Club, it offers fine performances and solid direction by Brad Anderson (Session 9, Next Stop Wonderland), but nothing really new or noteworthy.  The problem here is that, unlike its inspirations, the psychosis of the protagonist is never really in question, although the script by Scott Kosar (who penned the remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror) tries unsuccessfully to play it as ambiguous, so when the final revelations are made, there is little surprise and hardly any resonance to be felt.

Bale (Equilibrium, Reign of Fire) stars as Trevor Reznik, a machine operator who has been suffering from a tear-long bout of insomnia and weight loss.  Unable to think straight, things take a turn for the worse when a momentary distraction leads to the accidental dismembering of a co-workers arm.  He begins to see and talk to a man that the other workers claim is not there, and someone is leaving strange notes around his apartment that have no identifiable meaning to him. 

The Machinist is a somber, haunting thriller, well-crafted by Anderson, with a nice, Hermann-esque score by Roque Banos (Sexy Beast).  Bale is fantastic, and not just because of the physical transformation.  He perfectly encapsulates a man on the edge of sanity, but one who has no idea that he is, and can't understand why everyone around him is playing games with him. 

The film unravels in an always interesting way, although some of the imagery may be a bit dark and gloomy for some viewers.  What the movie lacks is any emotional investment in the characters, partially due to the fact that we are constantly searching for clues as to what's behind all of Reznik's odd behavior, and not really engaging with the story at large.  Not that these characters are drawn fully, as the storyline is more concerned with trickery over substance, but the competent ensemble of actors do flesh out their roles quite well.

Fans of Bale will find much to like in another daring performance, and lovers of psychological mind-benders should enjoy this as an interesting example of the sub-genre.  As for me, I admired the craftsmanship of all involved, yet felt a bit empty and unmoved by it, even though it did hold me with rapt attention.  Worth a look, but not worth going out of your way for.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo