Machinist, The (Spain , 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

A noir horror movie of the most un-classic kind, Brad Anderson's The Machinist takes you into the unstable mind of an insomniac with a dark secret whose life has become a bleak emotional wasteland devoted only to going through the motions of working. Blessed with an extraordinary performance by Christian Bale, this movie plays out like a nightmare, and will remind some viewers of Fight Club, Memento, and Insomnia. Although The Machinist may at times seem to be derivative of those films, and is inferior to them, it is nevertheless a harrowing experience for those to whom this sort of story appeals.

Bale's Trevor is, as the title implies, a machinist at an assembly-line factory. He clocks in every morning, then clocks out every afternoon, keeping basically to himself. When he returns from work, he does nothing more remarkable than frequent an airport diner where he converses with the same waitress (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) on a daily basis, or visit his "regular" prostitute, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh). But something strange is happening. A mysterious man named Ivan (John Sharian) is haunting him, and he is having strange visions. The question is whether these are figments of a deranged imagination or part of a larger external conspiracy to drive him insane. How much of what is happening is transpiring within Trevor's psyche? Who, if anyone, is real? Why has the clock stopped at 1:30? Why is the refrigerator bleeding? (And why does Ivan look like Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now?)

Style builds suspense. The scenes around the machinery are staged in a way that radiate menace. The expectation - which is fulfilled - is that something will go horribly wrong. The camerawork and claustrophobic atmosphere are designed to externally replicate Trevor's mental state. In addition, Anderson has drastically de-saturated the color, resulting in a spartan look that is only one step up from monochrome. And there's a scene with an approaching thunderstorm that is perfect in the way it is composed and presented.

Typically, the "hooker with a heart of gold" is rescued by Prince Charming, but Trevor is no Richard Gere and Stevie is no Pretty Woman. There may be something clichéd about the character of Stevie, but her circumstances are grim enough to divorce her from the stereotype. Jennifer Jason Leigh has played plenty of vulnerable, damaged characters, so this one isn't much of stretch for her. She's solid in this part, and provides a sympathetic face in a motion picture where most visages are less than friendly.

If Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman could win Oscars for allowing physical ugliness to enhance their performances, then what about some consideration for Christian Bale? Emaciated as a result of losing about 60 pounds via a calorie-depleted diet (one can of tuna fish and one apple per day), Bale barely looks like his usual robust self. His physical appearance transforms a strong performance into a memorable one. Take away the walking skeleton, and the film would not have been as disturbing.

Even for those who are able to piece together exactly what is happening before the movie explicitly reveals everything, The Machinist is still capable of capturing the attention. The film is dark, but rewarding, and it never cheats the viewer. There are no sudden twists designed to blindside an audience. The reveals occur gradually, with Anderson allowing us the pleasure of putting the pieces together. The Machinist requires a certain kind of viewer - one who is comfortable with grimness and a certain amount of gore. Members of that group will appreciate what this picture has to offer.

Machinist, The (Spain , 2004)

Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: 2004-10-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1