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Paramount Classics

Official Site

Director: Brad Anderson

Producer: Julio Fernandez

Written by: Scott Kosar

Cast: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, John Sharian


As The Machinist opens, an emaciated Trevor Reznik (Bale) appears to roll up a body in a carpet, and not in that good, Cleopatra way. Though he looks too frail to walk, he gets the bundle into a pickup truck and tosses it over an embankment… in full view of someone.

Much has been made of Bale’s phenomenal 63-pound weight loss for this role, and the movie delights in showing us his skeletal frame. In the thespian weight-change derby, you like to think an actor does it for a role that’s worth it—De Niro as Jake LaMotta, for example—rather than as an exercise. Of course, you can’t fake thin like you can fake fat, unless you cheat with CGI. While his physical transformation is showy, Bale’s exceptional performance is not. He keeps a good, steady American accent, while avoiding the hazard of overplaying a man whose senses may be betraying him.

Reznik, a machinist for National Machine, hasn’t slept in a year, which I thought would have killed your ass long before 365 days were up, but... Outside of his co-workers, his human contacts are few but regular. Interestingly, they’re both women who satisfy basic human needs in return for money. He’s a steady customer of Stevie (Leigh), a hooker who is his semi-girlfriend, and Maria (Gijon), a single mom and waitress whom he flirts with every night at an L.A. airport diner. Also interestingly, he’s a different Trevor with each woman—the raw Trevor with Stevie, a smoothie channeling Rod Serling as Maria brings him his nightly pie and coffee—but clearly cares for both of them.

The sleep deprivation that has taken a horrific toll on his body—the women in his life tsk-tsk over his thinness and his shop foreman thinks he’s a cokehead—begins to pry loose his mental grip as well. Trevor keeps almost falling asleep. But as weird occurrences start piling up, you have to wonder, “Is he really asleep and dreaming some of this?” The good news is, as the plot unfolds, it generates a lot of questions in viewers’ minds. The bad news is that two of those questions are, “How many of these events are red herrings?” and “When will this movie be over?”

Opening up slowly, The Machinist doesn’t make any effort to grab a viewer by the lapels and command your attention (other than the always-worthwhile Bale-watching). Instead, the story seems to merely borrow devices from other edgy suspense movies and from popular culture, and display them in the moody, desaturated colors of alienation. Trevor, for example, writes many Post-It notes to self, a la Memento. The Machinist is good at creating a sense of doom. You know a bad thing is going to happen and you’re waiting for it in every scene, especially since 1) he did, after all, dispose of a stiff in the first reel, and 2) you’re watching a seriously sleep-deprived nutmeat work with heavy machinery. The inevitability of the accident that finally occurs removes any sense of horror.

But it’s at this juncture that the movie picks up steam and you take a serious interest in the questions that have been forming in your mind. Trevor causes the life-altering accident because of the momentary distraction of Ivan (Sharian), a substitute lathe operator unknown to Trevor’s co-workers, then begins a feverish pursuit of Ivan. And in fact, The Machinist progresses to elaborate on its theme of lives altered in the batting of an eye with several scenes of those little distractions that capture one’s attention, sometimes disastrously.

Kosar’s clever script includes several scenes of the sort of plot points that seem intended to mislead you into haring off after them as clues—an ongoing hangman game, compulsive scrubbing and bleaching, seeping blood, an inquisitive landlady. While these elements seem to have been tossed into the mix just to see if you’ll bite, the mystery’s solution is tidy and satisfying, tying it all together nicely. It redeems the movie enough to make me watch it again, paying especial attention to Kosar’s message: Life is fragile, delicate cargoes of minds and bodies encased fragile packaging; take care.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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