The Machinist review by Mike Long

I'm not sure why, but I'm a huge fan of movies where the reality of the film for both the main character and the viewer shifts throughout the film. Some people like to call these psychological horror film, but for lack of a better term, I like to call these "mind&*#%" movies. I think that it takes a very talented writer and director to create an environment for the viewer and then suddenly throw things off kilter, thus creating a sense of dread and unease. My favorite films in this genre are Jacob's Ladder and Brain Dead. And I've just added another winner to the short list of films in this genre; The Machinist. If you think Christian Bale is good in Batman Begins, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Bale stars in The Machinist as Trevor Reznik, a man with many problems. He hasn't slept in a year. Every time that he begins to fall asleep, something awakens him. His weight has dropped to nearly 120 pounds. He looks like a walking skeleton. And he has odd habits like washing his hands with bleach. He works as a machinist (hence the title) in an industrial setting, and is alienated from his co-workers. Trevor's only true human contacts are with a prostitute named Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a waitress named Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). Following an accident in the machine shop, Trevor's life begins to get worse. He begins to find strange notes in his apartment. A mysterious man named Ivan (John Sharian) begins working in the shop and seems to be taunting Trevor. These events make Trevor very paranoid and he becomes convinced that someone at work is trying to kill him. As Trevor works to learn who is tormenting him, the very fabric of his reality begins to fall apart.

Add The Machinist to the list of very good movies which received little to no exposure before hitting DVD. The only real hype that this film got were the stories concerning Christian Bale's extreme weight loss for the role. The truly sacrificed his body for art. (And then he had to immediately gain back the weight plus more to play Batman.) And while Bale's dramatic metamorphosis is astounding, it’s only a small part of his performance and a small part of this film.

The real story here is well...the story. Screenwriter Scott Kosar has recently been responsible for the remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror. Well, no matter what you think of those particular films, the man does have some talent and in comes through in the script for The Machinist. My favorite thing about the film is that plays upon our anxieties and expectations in two ways. First, the audience gets caught up in the story and wants to know exactly what is happening to Trevor. But, the script also taunts us filmgoers. Kosar and director Brad Anderson know that we’ve seen films of this type before and give us a few red herrings. In the first few minutes of the film, two different characters comment on Trevor’s appearance in the exact same way, and this quote appears to be a clue to the deeper meaning of the film...but maybe it isn’t.

If anything, the film doesn’t give us enough information when compared to other films in this genre. It’s not until well into the third act that we begin to get a very clear view of what’s happening to Trevor and the final reveal is a whopper. The ending delivers a plot twist that is both shocking and overwhelmingly real -- making everything which has happened before suddenly come into focus. Unlike many, I wasn’t a fan of Anderson’s Session 9 (I found it to be boring.), but I was very impressed with his direction here. He is able to take Kosar’s words and create many symbols and visuals which move the story along and contribute to the overall effect of the film. And it’s also nice to see a director turn away from the modern-MTV look that so many of today’s films have and take on a more Hitchcockian approach.

And yes, we must talk about Christian Bale’s performance. His appearance aside, he dies a fantastic job. Trevor is a haunted man and for many actors, the weight loss would be enough. But Bale’s eyes communicate so much loneliness and fear that we can’t help but believe in Trevor’s plight. Halfway through the film, Bale’s cringe-inducing appearance becomes an afterthought as we become involved with his character. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays yet another lost soul as Stevie, but she brings a jaded energy to the role and we can’t help but hope that she can rescue Trevor.

There are several ways to identify a quality film and a sure-fire one is any movie that you immediately want to watch again to see what you missed and to find more pieces of the puzzle. The Machinist is such a film as the tightly woven story seems very fragmented while watching the film, but once the truth has been revealed, it’s a revelation. Being a fan of Nine Inch Nails, I was intrigued by the fact that the main character in the machinist has a name very similar to that of Trent Reznor, but the movie is much, much more than that.

The Machinist stays up all night on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the low-budget nature of the film, the transfer looks very good. The image is sharp and there’s only a small amount of grain on the picture. The movie has a dark, slightly washed out look and that comes through quite well on this transfer. This approach makes any bright colors really stand out. There is some slight artifacting, but it’s not distracting. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects, with no hissing or distortion. The surround sound and subwoofer effects are generously distributed throughout the film and truly add to the more bizarre scenes.

The Machinist DVD has a handful of extras. We start with an audio commentary from director Brad Anderson. He does a good job of speaking at length throughout the film and remains lively. He focuses on the story and how it was structured. He also talks about Bale’s performance and the challenge of shooting the film in Spain. “The Machinist: Breaking the Rules” is a 25-minute documentary which focuses on the making of the film. It features comments from Anderson, Kosar, and Bale, and, of course, describes Bale’s weight loss. But, it also contains a lot of behind-the-scenes footage showing the crews attempting to make Barcelona look like an American town. The featurette also examines each of the main characters. This is a very well-made feature. The DVD contains 8 “Deleted Scenes”, four of which are simply alternate examples of scenes which are in the finished film. Two of the scenes have optional commentary. None have any real revelations or new material. Finally, we have the “Theatrical Trailer” for The Machinist, letterboxed at 2.35:1.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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