The Machinist


Reviewed by: Nick Jones

"The Machinist is a dark film, visually and emotionally."

Brad Anderson clearly has good taste in films; the influences of Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski and David Lynch are omnipresent in this film, and no doubt many discerning viewers will find it hard to see past these visual similarities. The question will inevitably be: "Does The Machinist bring anything new to the table?" And the answer is, thankfully, a resounding yes.

In the skeletal frame of Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale), we see a man literally consumed by paranoia, insomnia and denial in the most disturbing way. His unstable, sleep-starved mind tries to escape from reality, but, as nervous onlookers, we cannot help but stare at his ravaged shell. We don't need to wait to get inside his mind, as with other psychological thrillers; the signs of disturbance are physical and it is very affecting stuff.

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Bale is a marvel in this movie. The trick when directing a film as hard going as this is to ensure you have a lead actor with watchability. Bale may have shed 61lbs for the role but he remains a heavyweight in the charisma stakes, gaining empathy with every solemn look, each confused stare. There is something painfully tragic in his scenes at the airport cafe, where everyone glares at him because of his isolating, grotesque appearance. Here he can create a world where he speaks coolly and mysteriously to the beautiful waitress, charming her with his elusive replies to her constant questions; but the coolness belies his emaciated features, and the stopped clock on the wall keeps reminding you something is spookily awry in these dreamlike scenes.

The Machinist is a dark film, visually and emotionally. Seemingly inspired by Lynch's Eraserhead, the industrial scenery is as black as Bale's sunken eyes and the soundtrack deliberately accentuates every swallow that emanates from his mouth. The film is primarily about escapism (not just for Reznik, but also his prostitute girlfriend, played perfectly by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and yet the mood is claustrophobic. The result creates an overwhelming sense of fear. Of what?

What has Reznik done? Or what has been done to him? Events are unusual, flashbacks distorted. Every hint to his past is as confusing as it is revealing. Watching is like experiencing Chinese water torture and with the ending comes a sense of relief. Crucially, loose ends are left to interpretation, which adds to the depth. It is a directorial achievement, rather than a flaw, that the film can only be stomached once.

More than merely a genre piece, The Machinist tells its own story in its own way, through visual clues, vague allegories and some very dark humour and, thanks to Bale's passionate performance and the tenderness of Leigh's character, it is as touching as it is nightmarish. Like a passing car accident, it will force you to watch against your will, and will continue to revisit your conscience uninvited long after you leave the cinema.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2005
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Christian Bale lives in the subconscious of a mentally frail insomniac.
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Read more The Machinist reviews:

Josh Morrall ****
Scott Macdonald ****

Director: Brad Anderson

Writer: Scott Kosar

Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Michael Ironside, John Sharian

Year: 2004

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain


EIFF 2004

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