Paramount // 2004 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 19th, 2009
How do you wake up from a nightmare if you're not asleep?
Brad Anderson had a lot to live up to after Session 9, which I consider one of the most perfect horror films of the new millennium. With a great script, effective actors, and atmosphere to spare, the film announced a force to be reckoned with in the horror community. It took another three years for Anderson to release his next feature. Although his budget didn't increase significantly, he was able to attract even more high-profile talent in Christian Bale. It was Bale who gave the film its biggest publicity boost by losing somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty pounds to play the tortured Trevor Reznick. Although his performance -- weight loss included -- is laudable, many will question if The Machinst is a film worth that much suffering.
Trevor Reznick (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight) is a haunted man. He works in a machine shop and claims to have not slept in a year. His frail, emaciated frame suggests that he's not exaggerating. At work he's constantly surrounded by suspicious co-workers and dangerous machines. His only companionship is a prostitute who fancies him (Jennifer Jason Lee, In the Cut) and a waitress (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) he visits at the airport coffee shop. Things turn for the worse: a mysterious figure begins to dog Trevor at work, someone is leaving mysterious notes around his apartment, and Trevor has flashbacks to something horrible in his past.
The Machinist is a difficult movie to pass judgment on. Although it certainly has a lot of things going for it, I'm not sure that all the parts add up to a satisfying whole. But first, the good:
* The acting. First, forget that Christian Bale lost all that weight for the role. Sure it helps his character look the part, but Bale's performance occurs in two places: his eyes and his voice. There are moments in this film where you can almost see unimaginable horrors in Bale's eyes. Also, his voice is soft, almost soothing for much of the film, but as he unravels, so does his voice. It's an amazing performance. He's also supported by a wealth of amazing actors. Jennifer Jason Leigh turns in a remarkably un-glamorous performance as a call girl. Rather than going the tarted-up route, Leigh seems like a regular person who just happens to make her living having sex. Going the opposite route, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón plays a charming waitress who is anything but pedestrian. Also, the guys who work in Trevor's shop have an easy camaraderie, especially Michael Ironside and Larry Gilliard Jr.
* The directing. Session 9 showed that Anderson was an budding master at creating atmosphere, and The Machinist only continues that trend. This time he doesn't have an already creepy mental hospital to work with; instead, he wrings maximum tension from the shop floor (where all those machines look particularly sinister), some indoor locations (I'm still not entirely sure of the geography of Trevor's apartment, which makes it even scarier), and some outdoor moments (here Anderson indulges in some brooding skies to complement his actors). It helps that the film was shot in Spain standing in for the West Coast with mostly American actors. While I don't think any particular non-American things stand out in the locations, everything is just slightly "off," which complements Trevor's unstable mental state.
* This Blu-ray disc. Initially, The Machinist doesn't look that impressive in high-def. However, that's only a surface reaction, since I know that the codec is working overtime to deal with all the dark, bluish tones of the film. There's a lot of dark scenes, but blacks stay strong and detail is fairly high throughout no matter how much light there is in a given scene. The atmosphere that Anderson worked so hard to produce is well represented here. Audio is well done, with an effective balance between dialogue and effects with nice clarity. For extras we get an interesting commentary from Anderson, who discusses the genesis of the project as well as some of the production challenges. In addition to the featurette ported over from the DVD release (which was a more traditional "making-of," this Blu-ray gives us two additional featurettes. "Manifesting The Machinist" runs about 23 minutes and features the voices behind the film discussing the literary origins and themes of the film, while "The Machinist: Hiding in Plain Sight" covers the films rich use of visual clues to the meaning of the story. There are also a number of deleted scenes and the film's theatrical trailer.
Despite the brilliant performances and creepy atmosphere, a couple of things bother me about The Machinist:
* The story. From Trevor's haunted visage, you'd expect the reveal at the end to find him guilty of having (in Alan Moore's words) "raped and murdered a school bus full of retarded children after selling them heroin." The actual ending is much more pedestrian, which may fit with the film's themes but fails to satisfy on a visceral level. The film is probably more realistic, but if you're going to have an actor lose sixty-plus pounds, it should be for an epic crime.
* Ivan. He's a fine character, but John Sharian is horribly miscast. Everything from his faux Louisiana accent to his big bald head just screams over-the-top, which is the exact opposite of what his character seems to call for. Although he's physically intimidating, for most of the film he comes off as silly rather than scary, which doesn't work.
For fans of psychological thrillers, The Machinist gets a solid recommendation as a rental, especially given the quality of this Blu-ray disc. Fans of Christian Bale, especially those who have only seen him as the bulkier Batman, will want to track this film down for this performance alone. Be prepared, however: The Machinist is not a light movie, and it's quite a bit better the second time around.
Although the ending is a little disappointing, The Machinist is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes