Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Stevie
Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as Marie
John Sharian as Ivan
Michael Ironside as Miller
Larry Gilliard Jr. as Jackson
Reg E. Cathey as Jones
Anna Massey as Mrs. Shike
James DePaul as Reynolds
Matthew Romero Moore as Nicholas
Craig Stevenson as Tucker
Reg Wilson as Bartender
Although a bit erratic, this creepy and distinctive thriller is held together by an amazing performance by an almost unrecognizable Christian Bale and the unique visual style and tone of director Brad Anderson.
Machinist Trevor Reznik hasn’t slept in over a year and it’s beginning to affect his job performance. When a coworker loses his arm in an accident that was his fault, Reznik starts to get paranoid that a bizarre stranger named Ivan is out to get him. As he tries to find solace in the arms of a hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a waitress at an airport diner, even they might not be what they seem.
Fans of horror and thrillers must be getting tired of Hollywood’s incessant need to remake every horror movie made in the last forty years. Thankfully, the weeks leading up to Halloween has introduced a number of unique thrillers like Primer and The Final Cut and the upcoming Saw, which show that there are a few filmmakers attempting to generate suspense and chills from original ideas.
Director Brad Anderson isn’t new to the horror genre, having helmed 2002’s Session 9, possibly one of the scariest horror films of the last few years. The Machinist is a bit of departure in its tone and look, but it’s another step in the right direction for the genre. Written by Scott Kosar, writer of two of those Hollywood horror remakes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the upcoming The Amityville Horror, it’s a psychological thriller about paranoia and delusions based around a man living in a nightmarish world despite not being able to sleep. Trevor Reznik is introduced, showing his day-to-day routine of working at the machine shop, visiting the sympathetic hooker who seems to like him, and reminding himself of important tasks by placing Stickies throughout his apartment. As a result of his yearlong insomnia, Trevor Reznik is quickly deteriorating both mentally and physically, shown with jarring effectiveness by Christian Bale’s decision to lose 63 (!) pounds for the role. His sickly appearance makes him almost unrecognizable, so it’s no wonder that those around him are worrying about him.
The introduction of the creepy Ivan, an imposing freakish looking character, begins a series of strange circumstances from the “Hangman”-like doodles appearing on Reznik’s fridge to the red and viscous fluid dripping from his freezer.
Besides the sleep deprivation and its effects, the premise itself isn’t that original. Plenty of similar “mindf**k” films have been made about paranoia taken to the point where the lines between reality and imagination grow thin. The Machinist‘s template falls somewhere between the worlds of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock with a bit of “Twilight Zone” mixed in. Likewise, Bale’s Reznik falls somewhere between Guy Pearce’s Leonard from Memento and Crispin Glover’s Willard. Besides his skeletal transformation, Bale once again brings his all to the character much like he did with his memorable portrayal of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Zig-zagging between a subdued calm and an over-the-top mania, it’s a performance that is not easily forgotten. It’s what makes the movie so riveting despite much of it not straying too far from a typical Hitchcock thriller.
This may be the movie’s biggest fault, as it tries way too hard to mimic Hitchcock with a score that almost literally steals Bernard Hermann’s musical themes from Vertigo and Psycho. The key element to the film’s chilling tone is its dark and grimy look using muted colors that rarely go beyond gray tones, with the exception of Ivan’s bright red Cadillac. This effect creates a strange mix of modern cinematography with old school storytelling, which doesn’t always work, as the distinctive look of the movie even gets tiring after a while. The film would probably still work even without those cinematic tricks as Anderson brings a similar amount of tension and suspense to every scene as he did in Session 9.
Still, the movie is dragged down by Kosar’s average dialogue in a script that could have used some tightening, and even Leigh, who doesn’t have too far to stretch in the role, isn’t able to keep up with Bale’s intensity with her lazy delivery. At least Reznik’s relationship with the waitress offers a bit of sentimentality to a rather brutal story.
The movie’s plodding pace is rescued from stalling completely by a third act that builds in intensity as Reznik chases after the elusive Ivan, leading to a climax that thankfully avoids the way too obvious “Stephen King twist” that one expects. It’s a great pay-off that allows the viewer a better understanding of Reznik’s frame-of-mind, while tying together all of the clues planted earlier in the movie. It also leaves you wondering how much of what you’ve just seen is real and how much is a figment of Reznik’s feverish mind.
The Bottom Line:
While The Machinist tends to be a bit like watching a car wreck, Bale’s amazing realization of Reznik makes it the type of movie that keeps your rapt attention even during the slower scenes. Fans of stylish thrillers should appreciate the effort.