This is a unique film. Helmed by Brad Anderson, the director of Session 9, and written by Scott Kossar, screenwriter of the recent remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre & The Amityville Horror. I’ve never seen Anderson’s work before, but I’ve heard good things about it. Whatever the case, The Machinist pulsates with rare talent and dedication for a style of film that few venture into. The most shockingly impactful display of dedication comes from Christian Bale (American Psycho, Batman Begins) who shed 63 lbs for this gaunt, troubled role leaving him at a frail 120 lbs. The scenes showing his skeletal physique will just blow your mind. With this being such a unique film, a plot synopsis cannot go into details without spoiling anything.
Simply put, there is something wrong with Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale), but what it is, even he doesn’t know. Trevor is a machinist that has wasted away to the point where “if you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist.” But what happens to be worse is that Trevor has not slept in a year. Trevor is in such bad shape that his machine factory co-workers believe he’s doing drugs, but it’s hardly the case. Still, the deterioration of his physical and mental state beg the question, “what the hell happened to him?” On the brighter side, Trevor has two women in his life – the lover and the mother. The lover is Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is a very warm and affectionate girl who happens to be a prostitute, but is certainly more to Trevor than that. The mother is Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) who is a mother to a young boy, and gives Trevor some company while drinking coffee in the late night hours. Still, Trevor has recently become very interested in a supposed co-worker named Ivan (John Sharian) who he’s never seen before, and comes off a little creepier than anyone would be comfortable with. But what’s even creepier is that no one at the factory seems to know who he is – it’s as if he doesn’t exist. Although, to Trevor, he is very real, and Ivan continues to haunt Trevor to no end. Then, there’s the mystery of who’s leaving post-it notes on Trevor’s refrigerator door – taunting him with a game of hangman. Paranoia is only the beginning as Trevor tries to decipher this bizarre mystery, and ultimately, discover what secrets are buried in his scattered, tired mind. Like the tagline says, How do you wake up from a nightmare when you’re not asleep?
The sparkling gem in this film is truly Christian Bale. Beyond any other performance of his, this is the one that demonstrates the extremes Bale will goto for a great role. His dedication is full heart, body, and soul. He has a passion for film and acting that is just as unique and rare as this film. Bale practically starved himself to reach this striking physical goal, and believe me, you won’t be able to understand how anyone could live in this condition. Trevor’s a bit lighthearted about it all, and doesn’t really let it bother him (frankly, he’s got much more pressing matters at hand). Bale’s performance here is powerhouse indeed, treading through a flood of emotions over the course of the film. I simply cannot praise Bale’s acting talents enough, there aren’t the words for it. He is truly one of the greatest actors of our time, and I’m glad to be a witness to it.
The rest of the cast is very complementary as well. Michael Ironside’s role as Miller, a co-worker of Trevor’s that suffers an unfortunate mishap at the factory, is small but interesting. Ironside’s always so typecast as a villain or a hard-ass tough guy, it’s nice to see him as someone more light-hearted. Jennifer Jason Leigh is, as always, a wonderful talent. She’s done some fantastic roles in the past, and while this role as Stevie is more understated, she has heart and sympathy. Leigh is still a beautiful woman, and brings a needed bit of consult to Trevor’s troubled mind. Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (pronounce it if you can) is the overnight waitress at an airport coffee shop that Trevor visits every night. She’s also a mother with a son named Nicholas (gives me a smile) that Trevor befriends on Mother’s Day. And probably the capper is the mysterious and creepy Ivan as portrayed by John Sharian. He essentially haunts Trevor throughout the movie, and makes himself very suspect by the fact that he comes off as overtly suspicious. He seems like a sociopath, but there’s something far more unforeseen about him than that. Furthermore, his look is great! It was augmented to make him appear creepier than normal with a false set of larger teeth and a mangled hand (which is exceptionally freaky). Sharian plays up the role, but not too much. His look takes a lot of credit for Ivan’s effectiveness, and Sharian really has quite the Brando mojo going here.
Another striking element here is the cinematography and the entire visual design of the film. There are a lot of filters used, making the film take on a cold, monotone feel, but there is one or two scenes with a warmer look. Though, the surreal, unwelcoming visuals are what dominate the film. And while the story is set in L.A., it was actually shot in Spain, and I feel that the visual style applied here really pushes the film towards a more European look. The pitfalls, but I think it helps the film seem more surreal. The cinematography is absolutely wonderful, very inspired – admittedly – by Hitchcock among other things. It’s amazing work that is rarely seen these days. I mean, this is photography where the entire film is a large canvas that is painted on with great care. That’s much like how the script is with many layers, details, and textures that are slowly put together before we ultimately see the entire masterwork. The score also blends these elements together. It’s another Hitchcock-inspired detail, and has a very special, unique quality. Some films don’t utilize the score as a storytelling device, but here it is used to perfect potential. It definitely enhances all parts of the film with the eerie, mysterious qualities being in the forefront. Roque Baños has a rare talent for a style of score that isn’t heard enough any more.
Now, where everything really connects is director Brad Anderson. Again, I’ve never seen any of his other work, but I have to believe it’s just amazing. The talent he displays in this film, between subtle and obvious, is remarkable. Not a whole lot of directors develop their own personal style, but when they do, it makes them that much better. Anderson definitely leaves his mark with The Machinist. Whether it’s driving the actors, planning out the action in a scene, or what have you, he delivers a wonderfully crafted work of film. It would certainly take a very competent and highly skilled director to make this script work, but not only does it work, it lives, it breathes. Brad Anderson really made a potentially very confusing story and made it compelling, intriguing, thrilling, and engaging. He slowly reels you in, and you have no desire to pull away until the very end.
All in all, this is a great film. It’s strong, eerie, and by the end, will definitely have you in an array of emotions. It’s somber and strange, but Brad Anderson makes sense of it all. The entire cast is a pleasure with Christian Bale putting in everything he had, and showing his dedication and devotion on every single frame. The photography is something not seen since Hitchcock, and the score resides in that same class. Simply put, everything and everyone here makes this film everything it was meant to be and more. This is one great piece of filmmaking, and I highly recommend everyone check it out sooner than later. A pure 10 out of 10!