The Machinist

The Machinist
Director: Brad Anderson
Screenplay: Scott Kosar
Stars: Christian Bale (Trevor Reznik), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Stevie), Aitana Sanchez-Gijon (Marie), John Sharian (Ivan), Michael Ironside (Miller), Larry Gilliard (Jackson), Reg E. Cathey (Jones), Anna Massey(Mrs. Shrike)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2004
Country: U.S. / Spain
The Machinist DVD
The MachinistIn The Machinist, a grim nightmare-portrait of the ravenous nature of guilt, actor Christian Bale famously lost more than 60 pounds to play Trevor Reznick, a man who claims not to have slept in a year and appears to be slowly wasting away from within. Bale's gaunt frame, so lacking in weight that he literally makes good on screenwriter Scott Kosar's description of the character as a "walking skeleton," never ceases to shock and cause unease throughout the film because it so painfully clear that this special effect is for real. The discomfort of imagining Bale's discomfort colors the already bleak proceedings to the point of being difficult to watch, which is surely director Brad Anderson's point.

During the day, Reznick works as a lathe operator at a machine shop that looks about four decades out of date, and he spends his evenings either in the arms of a sympathetic prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh) or eating pie and drinking coffee at a sterile airport cafe looked after by Marie, a beautiful single-mom waitress (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). There's a tendency to see these two women -- the only female characters in the film -- as the two sides of the Madonna/whore complex, but they're both so open-faced, honest, and sweet that they're virtually the same character simply in different places in life.

The Machinist takes on the tenor of a thriller once Trevor begins discovering Post-It notes on his refrigerator that appear to be starting a game of hangman. Things go from bad to worse when he meets a strange man named Ivan (John Sharian) in the parking lot outside of work. Ivan claims to work in the same machinery shop, and Trevor even sees him there on the shop floor, but when he mentions Ivan to others, they claim he doesn't exist. At one point, Trevor is so caught up with Ivan that he stops paying attention at a crucial moment and causes an industrial accident in which a fellow worker (Michael Ironside) loses an arm. So, is Trevor insane, hallucinating, caught in a nightmare, or is everyone plotting against him?

Screenwriter Scott Kosar, who has also penned scripts for the recent remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror, keeps the audience guessing by engulfing us so deeply in Trevor's worldview that there's no way of peeking around the edges. Ivan's outright weirdness seem to clearly mark him as a figment of a tortured imagination, but at the same time Trevor's entire world (or at least his perception of it) is so warped that it's hard not to imagine there being a space for a man like Ivan. Brad Anderson employs the same visual scheme of inky-black dread and nausea-green sickness that made his Session 9 (2001) such an effective creepfest to paint Trevor's world in the nastiest possible light. Roque Banos' bombastic musical score, which owes more than a small debt to the great Bernard Herrmann, gives The Machinist a decidedly Hitchockian flavor, albeit one that has soaked in bile a little too long.

Unfortunately, like so many thrillers these days, The Machinist is a puzzle film that is basically treading water until it can spring its big revelation in the last few minutes. Seeing Trevor's wasted, concentration-camp physique, the question constantly swirling in the back of your mind is, "How did he get this way?," a question that is duly answered in the final five minutes. What's real, what's imaginary, and what's simple paranoid delusion is revealed with a convenient flashback that feels more hackneyed than it should, given that it reveals the film to be less about plot machinations than it is about heady themes of guilt, redemption, and criminality (no wonder Anderson keeps parading references to Dostoevsky throughout the film). Still, the themes get buried under all that atmosphere and narrative trickery, and The Machinist never quite reaches the emotional heights to which it so clearly aspires.

The Machinist DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
AudioEnglish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Commentary by director Brad Anderson
  • "The Machinist: Breaking the Rules" making-of featurette
  • Eight deleted scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • DistributorParamount Home Video
    Release DateJune 7, 2005

    The Machinist is presented in an excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer that captures Trevor's nightmarish vision of the world. The color palette is largely restricted to cool, desaturated tones of metallic gray, blue, and sickly green. As much of the film is bathed in darkness, black levels are crucial, and the transfer comes through with inky blacks and strong shadow detail that brings out all the nuances of the atmospheric sets.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is equally effective. The surround channels open up and give good depth and resonance to Roque Banos' booming score, while they add atmosphere and dread to the quieter moments.

    Brad Anderson contributes an informative, if sometimes a bit dry, commentary on making the film. The 20-minute making-of featurette "The Machinist: Breaking the Rules" is a run-of-the-mill look behind the scenes that includes interviews with Anderson, writer Scott Kosar, executive producers Antonia Nava and Carlos Fernandez, production designer Alain Bainee, director of photography Xavi Gimenez, and members of the cast including Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon. There are a few intriguing bits in the featurette, such as shots of workers replacing European street signs with U.S. signs to hide the fact that the film was shot in Madrid and a scene in which Anderson directs from a gurney after hurting his back. The eight deleted scenes are an interesting bunch, as some of them are simply variations or extensions of scenes already in the film, while others (including one in a cemetery) are completely excised scenes (a few of them have commentary by Anderson explaining why they were cut). Also included on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer.

    Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright ©2005 Paramount Home Video

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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