"Unique, with a startling vision."

I have never been anything less than in awe of Christian Bale's ability to utterly convince me as an actor, the ability to lose any preconcieved notion of his other performances. Perhaps it's in the face, by equal turns charming and threatening, ideal for Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) and equally so for the Dark Knight's alter egos. Spielberg's Empire Of The Sun found this remarkable talent in a film which was as beguiling as it was brilliant, and now, we can add yet another performance to the resume in a superior thriller that mixes photographic and editing styles to frightening effect.

The Machinist is a film about the pains of guilt, as much as it is a thriller. Bale plays the machinist of the title, Trevor Reznik, a physically and mentally delapidated worker. His health is obviously suffering, due to acute and overpowering insomnia (no sleep for a year!?). The body reflects that of a ghostly skeleton, thin and tightly wrapped around a wiry frame in sickening views. And we can clearly see that something nasty is forever playing with his subconscious. It is during the journey of the film that we find out what this is. Or do we really?

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The structure initially recalls David Fincher's Fight Club, with the central character an emotional mess, accidents happening and people who supposedly don't exist. But the similarities end there. Brad Anderson's film uses fresh means of playing the audience, setting up repetitions of previous shots, causing cognitive unease and toying with us. The photography is impressive, engaging and hypnotic in it's near black-and-white grainy harshness. It reminds us of Minority Report's neo-noir beauty.

Most movie plots have become predictable and yet somehow The Machinist has been directed as a function of extrapolating how far we'll attempt to think ahead of it. Similarly with David Mamet's Spartan. And again, I'm wrong in my guesses. The revelations aren't as well knitted into the narrative as Fincher's film, but they do work, and the score is especially impressive, noting minimalist use of piano and synth in all the right places.

As the story unfolds, red herrings are netted and characters cast aside. Perhaps the film takes too long to get to where it's going. Our journey into Reznik's subconscious is a mindtrip and a little editing and compression would certainly improve the ultimate impact. Overall, I feel it's better to leave the audience playing catch up than to overtake them.

The Machinist is unique, with a startling vision of many helpings of chaos taking shape into an exhausting and surprisingly cohesive whole. The manner in which the events are deliberately vague and keep your mind working overtime is a real pleasure.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2004
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Christian Bale lives in the subconscious of a mentally frail insomniac.
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Read more The Machinist reviews:

Nick Jones ****1/2
Josh Morrall ****

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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Fight Club
Who Needs Sleep?