In 10 Words or Less
Christian Bale transforms himself in a haunting psychological thriller
I can't say I've ever really had trouble going to sleep. My problem is, I don't like to sleep. I feel like I'm just wasting time, which is why I only sleep about four hours a night. It's my own personal psychosis and I'm comfortable with that. I don't expect anyone to understand. But on the other hand, I can't understand insomnia either. You can't sleep? Well...then you ought to be very productive. Don't expect any sympathy from me.
The star of The Machinist, Trevor Reznik (Bale), is a metal-shop worker who has been unable to sleep for a year. As a result, his mental state is slipping, which is not an ideal situation for a man working with heavy machinery. Unable to concentrate, he ends up in the middle of a situation that plunges him deeper into his madness, as he thinks he's seeing things (and people) and suffers from deep despair and guilt. Exactly why he can't sleep is revealed slowly, so if you think you have the mystery solved at the first major reveal, you don't have the whole story.
Though 90% of the film is Resnik, there are some supporting characters that are key to the story, starting with the two women in his life. Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a whore he finds physical closeness with, while Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), an airport-cafe waitress, is his emotional anchor. They act as two sides of an important coin for Reznik, a fact that's illustrated in a manner that's not exactly subtle when they share dialogue. It's the obvious nature in which the mystery progresses that actually masks what's really going on, making for a deeper story than one originally might expect.
Most films exploring the depths of the human mind, especially one suffering under severe stress, tend to get lost in themselves. Working in this movie's favor is the pace of the exploration, which unfurls like a Hitchcock story, laying out red herrings and clues to the mysteries in a very deliberate way. The quick, machine gun rhythms of films like Momento and Fight Club wouldn't work here, though some similar editing techniques are used. Hitchcock's influence is all over this film, not only in the story, but in the look, which is languid and graceful, and the sound, which features a throwback score that's evocative and atmospheric.
This is the latest film from director Brad Anderson, who has turned around a career that started off huge, thanks to Sundance hype, and went downhill quickly, by shifting gears from romantic comedy to creepy horror. Such a shift could have been disasterous, but Anderson handled it smoothly, showing the same deft hand here that he displayed in the asylum horror classic Session 9. Unlike his previous movies, he didn't pen this one, which is probably why it doesn't have the same unique feel of his other efforts. After all, writer Scott Kosar has just one original film on his resume (this one), with the other three being horror remakes. Though the film feels like it's traveling well-worn road at first, including bits from "MacBeth," Dostoyevsky and other, more recent sources, in the end, it's not business as usual, for which he can be praised.
Though the filmmaking and acting are very good, there's one aspect of this film that overwhelms the rest: Bale's physique. Though he's built like a Greek god in this summer's Batman Begins, here he can only be described as akin to a Holocaust victim. Having lost a record 63 pounds to achieve his skin-and-bones look, he is able to display emotion in ways few actors can, with exposed facial muscles and bone structure. He also is able to disturb viewers into accepting this world, which might otherwise be too out there for a story that, at its core, is very human and real. And if that doesn't work, he is simply a human special effect in a film that doesn't rely on much visual trickery, simply because the greatest bit they could have come up with is real.
Paramount released The Machinist as a one-disc edition, packed in a standard keepcase. The disc features static anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to watch the film, select scenes, view special features and set up the language options. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene, while language options include English Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks, English subtitles and closed captioning.
A very cold, dark film, with a look created in the computer, this transfer certainly does the film justice, presenting a clear, appropriate anamorphic widescreen picture, with just the right touches of grain in the right spots. This release gets high marks for the depth of its blacks and the level of fine detail. Also, though the color palette is very limited, but reproduced well. There's the lightest amount of dirt or damage in this film.
The audio mix is presented in equally well-produced Dolby 5.1 Surround. Some of the stand-out moments include the machine-shop scenes, with the whirring and grinding (along with some less industrial noises), and the chases. This is something of a quiet film, which serves to make the sound effects and theremin-heavy score a bigger part of the film's overall feel. This presentation brings that characteristic to the home theater well.
The bonus material kicks off with a feature-length screen-specific audio commentary by Anderson. The director has picked up the pace from his last DVD chat, and provides plenty of info about the production and his influences, but is more informative about the story of the film. It's certainly helpful, when dealing with a complex mystery, to have someone on your side to tell you what's going on. Some directors feel that's ruining "the magic," but understanding a film in the end is more interesting than being confused.
Anderson also provides short commentaries for two of the eight deleted scenes on this DVD. They weren't particularly interesting, definitely not enough to explain why he only recorded them for these two. The deleted scenes were best left out of the film, as they either ruined the film's pace or revealed information way too early in the mystery. These can be viewed individually or as a group.
The 25-minute full-frame featurette "The Machinist: Breaking All the Rules" follows the now-traditional route for respectable behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries, as a separate crew was hired to follow the production, capturing the entire process. What they ended up with is mainly about how unique the shoot was, from the troubles that befell Anderson to the challenges of shooting an English-language film in Spain with a Spanish-speaking crew. The burnt-in subtitles are a bit of a pain, as they are riddled with typos, but in general, it's an interesting and enlightening piece.
Also in the package is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in letterboxed widescreen with a 2.0 soundtrack, and a handful of other Paramount trailers.
The Bottom Line
A deep, multi-tiered mystery, The Machinist beats out any expectations one might have about the film from the engaging trailer. If you think you are coming in with a clue, you may in fact be coming in at a disadvantage, as a clear mind is the best tool in attempting to stay one step ahead of this stylish, intelligent character study within a thriller. The DVD provides a few interesting extras, including a decent commentary and a nice behind-the-scenes look at what went into this movie. While watching, I got the feeling this film would end up getting a mid-level rating, but as the story progressed, that rating rose, and I feel comfortable giving it a high recommendation. The overall package should be entertaining for at least a couple of viewings, as once the story is revealed, there's so much more that's interesting throughout the film.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.