DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Machinist

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Machinist

The Machinist (2004) dir. Brad Anderson
Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Larry Gillard Jr. Michael Ironside, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón


By Alan Bacchus

Back in 2004, having been a huge fan of the underrated and little-seen horror flick, Session 9, I remember greatly anticipating this follow-up picture – a moody thriller about a hypochondriac suffering some kind of mental breakdown. Unfortunately, it never really manages to work entirely. Anderson tries his best to intrigue us with his expert abilities with mood and tone, but there’s just not enough going on to truly entertain us.

Christian Bale plays Trevor Reznick, a grossly underweight machine operator harbouring such internal hidden trauma he’s feared by just about everyone he comes in contact with. He enjoys spending time either with his favourite call girl, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), or buying coffee from an airport diner waitress, Maria (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón).

Creepy things start happening to him, which fuels a deep-rooted paranoia that eventually comes to light. Reznick starts seeing mysterious post-it notes placed on his fridge, has nightmares of an amusement park ride called Route 666 and sees a creepy stranger wearing mirrored sunglasses, who appears to him at random. It's all randomness until the final act when the puzzle pieces are revealed to be fractured memories of a painful moment from the past, which his mind and body are desperately trying to forget.

One of the main talking points of the film was Christian Bale's dramatic weight loss. To the detriment of the film, his physique has an effect outside the context of the story. Bale is beyond weight loss, as his character is emaciated and malnourished, an effect of his deep psychological trauma. It’s an overpowered device and a distraction from the film.

Like Bale’s body, the story has only a bare bones skeleton of a plot on which to hang. The central problem is that so much of the film occurs in Reznick’s head. The entire thing feels like a dupe to the audience – a single piece of information held back from the audience fuels the entire film.

And so, Anderson has only his genre skills to work with. He creeps us out as best as he can with some wonderful surrealist imagery, which would be used more effectively in a better film. The factory scenes feature long close-ups of the machinery grinding and churning out the molded metal. A number of these scenes build to a moment that we know is bound to happen - one of the workmen getting caught in the machinery. We do get that scene, and it’s a doozy. But to what end? A great scene wasted in a dull movie.

The ending, which neatly ties up all the randomness of Anderson’s imagery, feels like a cop-out, a matter of convenience revealing only an obvious manipulation of a single plot twist into an entire feature film.

The Machinist is available on Blu-ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment.

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