The Machinist

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/03/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 102 mins

Impressively directed, atmospheric thriller with a stunning central performance by Christian Bale.

When The Machinist played at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year, the press coverage primarily focused on Christian Bale’s astonishing weight loss for the role. Given that Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me was playing at the same festival, this isn’t that surprising, but the fact remains that Bale’s first appearance in the film cannot fail to elicit gasps of horror - he lost around 63 pounds (that’s 28.6kg or 4.5 stone) and he looks like a bag of bones throughout.

Luckily, the film repays Bale’s devotion to his part - it’s an effective, atmospheric, Hitchcockian thriller, impressively directed by Brad Anderson.

Insomniac Begins To Lose Grip On Reality Bale plays Trevor Reznik, a machine-shop operator who hasn’t slept in a year. He’s suffering from a severe form of total insomnia that has left him emaciated, exhausted, paranoid and increasingly unsure of what is real and what is not. On top of all that, someone is playing a sinister game of Hangman on his fridge Post-It notes.

Trevor seeks refuge with both kindly prostitute Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and friendly airport café waitress Marie (Aitana Sanchez Gijon), but things get worse when a colleague at work (Michael Ironside) loses a limb in an accident and Trevor comes to suspect sinister co-worker Ivan (John Sharian). There’s just one small problem: Trevor’s workmates inform him that Ivan doesn’t actually exist…

The Machinist has already drawn comparisons to contemporary thrillers such as Memento and Fight Club. While these comparisons are fair, up to a point (within the context of the plot), they also lumber the film with unreasonable expectations as to the ending - yes, we do eventually find out why Trevor hasn’t been sleeping but there’s no mind-blowing final ‘twist’ here and if you’re expecting a killer climax then the ending will feel somewhat pedestrian as a result.

If anything, it’s the sort of ending where everything slots neatly into place and you’ll kick yourself if you’ve missed all the obvious clues scattered throughout the film.

Performances Nothing Short Of Superb

The performances are nothing short of superb - Bale’s skeletal form alone is likely to be the most haunting visual image of the year. It’s an incredibly committed performance and he’s utterly convincing throughout.

There’s also terrific support from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Ironside, Aitana Sanchez Gijon and English actor John Sharian, who was apparently cast because of his creepy resemblance to Marlon Brando as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, something that, bizarre as it sounds, adds considerably to the film.

Anderson deliberately shoots the film so that it could be anywhere: it’s recognisably America and yet something about it isn’t quite right. The film also looks terrific, with exceptional photography by Xavi Gimenez that adds to the dreamlike aspect of the film with an odd palette of greens and occasional bright white exteriors. In addition there’s a memorable score by Roque Banos that explicitly pays homage to the work of Bernard Hermann, highlighting the Hitchcockian aspects of the film and sounding like a cross between Psycho and Vertigo.

To sum up, The Machinist is an exceptionally crafted thriller that isn’t unworthy of comparisons to Hitchcock and Polanski. The relative simplicity of its climax may prevent it from achieving Memento-like cult status, but it’s unquestionably worth seeing, not least for Bale’s amazing performance. Recommended.

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The Machinist
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Content updated: 23/01/2020 06:47

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