MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Stars: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Sharian, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Michael Ironside, Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., Reg E. Cathey, Anna Massey, Matthew Romero, Robert Long, Colin Stinton, Craig Stevenson/ Runtime: 101 minutes
I feel it must be said that ever since a remarkable role in a film helmed by Steven Spielberg known as Empire of the Sun, Christian Bale has managed to truly come into his own as one of the world of movie magic’s most unique stars as he has found himself equally at home in big scale blockbusters as well as more smaller budgeted and independent-in nature films. Indeed from a riveting turn as the most obsessed with Phil Collins and Huey Lewis psychotic 1980’s yuppie who simply just needs to go return some video tapes in American Psycho to his role as Dick Cheney in Vice, an overweight and balding conman in American Hustle, and of course his tenure as one of the most iconic superheroes of all time in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Bale has managed to showcase significantly higher amounts of both range and just sheer screen presence than the majority of actors in the business today. Yet nestled in his filmography, and coincidentally one of the last he made before his rise to the top of the heap thanks to such films as the Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, and yes even Terminator Salvation, is a little low-budget and quite indie in nature film known as The Machinist. Yet I implore you dear reader: don’t let the tiny budget or independent-vibe of the movie detract you from seeing a true gem of the psychological thriller genre of moviemaking. Indeed not only is The Machinist an absolutely riveting and nightmarish voyage through a labyrinth of genuine madness, but it also is a terrific showcase for Bale’s most petrifying performance as an actor. Yet it is also a performance that manages to showcase his absolute dedication to the acting craft and which also managed to firmly establish his standing in the world of movie magic as a thespian whose talent truly has few equals in the business.
The plot is as follows: The Machinist introduces us to a world not quite unlike ours, but more dreary and nightmarish in nature, atmosphere, and mood. Our guide through this nightmarish landscape, we quickly learn, is a man by the name of Trevor Reznik; a man whose choice of career is working hard at a machine shop, hence the title, and who seems to enjoy spending time with women and joking around in a congenial manner with the people that he works with. In fact, it would most certainly seem to appear that our intrepid hero leads what many could call a “normal” life……that is until I tell you dear reader that Trevor barely eats anything and has not enjoyed the company of everyone’s favorite significant other known as “sleep” in a little over a year. Thus, since he cannot bring himself to head to sleep, Trevor spends his nights engaging in odd little pastimes including writing odd little Post-It notes to himself, reading, watching TV, and scrubbing his bathroom floor in such an obsessive manner that you wouldn’t be surprised if Howard Hughes was watching from the hallway and smiling in approval. However when Trevor finds himself directly involved in a horrific workplace calamity that results in a co-worker of his name by the name of Miller losing his left arm, Trevor’s already bewildering life begins to spin even more out of control. Thus in order to potentially calm his regret and guilt, and to try and find purpose and meaning to his life again, Trevor finds himself finding the solace he desperately craves both in the arms of a sympathetic prostitute by the name of Stevie as well as behind the counter of a midnight diner he frequents in the form of an amiable and seemingly understanding server by the name of Marie. Yet even as he forms a bond with each of these 2 different women that also seems to be heading to the direction of a potentially genuine and quite meaningful relationship, Trevor soon begins to notice some really weird things are afoot. Things that include including the appearance of a new co-worker by the name of Ivan who no one else seems to ever really notice, and the mysterious arrival of some truly creepy Post-it notes on his fridge that seem to have an ominous game of Hangman set up on them. Thus as Trevor attempts to piece together the answer to these enigmas, we soon see his intriguing past slowly come to the forefront as it manages to violently collide with a present that is heart wrenching, physically and psychologically tormented, and befuddled thus leaving us, and Trevor, soon wondering: Is there truly any way to come back from the hand of madness when it already has you firmly within its grasp?
Now I think it is safe to say that The Machinist is the psychological thriller at its absolute finest. Indeed I say that because this film is a truly cerebral and quite unnerving film that manages to showcase horror when it is in its most basic form and that is when it exists in each and every one of us. Indeed, as we are able to horrifically witness, our main character is showing signs of instability of both a psychological and a physical nature; as such whilst his body is crumbling away, so too he is from a mental standpoint. As a result he starts to hallucinate wildly whilst also struggling to distinguish between what is real and what is a fragment of his sleep-starved imagination. Suffice it to say that neither our main character nor you will be able to answer this question in full until the very end of the film. Regardless it is this very struggle with who a person is whilst living in a state of excruciating physical decline, befuddlement, and self-doubt that manages to showcase a horror that is more terrifying than any masked killer, killer doll, evil leprechaun, alien creature, guy with a hook for a hand, or inter-dimensional Christian Grey (Pinhead) could hope to achieve. Indeed even though there is still without a doubt room in the thriller/horror genre of filmmaking for slasher films and films of that ilk, The Machinist works because it manages to ensnare and share with all of us the very essence of horror thus terrifying and intriguing in equal measure. To that end, praise must be given to the helmer of this film, Mr. Brad Anderson for providing the movie with a pace that is both slow yet deliberate in nature as it allows the story’s exposition to develop organically, the puzzles to remain aloof, and the character to slowly come full circle in his attempts to piece everything together.
Now from a visual standpoint, it should be noted that this film does a wonderful job at ensuring that every shot we get manages to be a perfect reflection of the tone of the overall movie. I say this because The Machinist manages to look both dreamlike and visually separate from the whole of reality to say nothing of the fact that they are also subtly mesmerizing if not a little bit faded. Indeed it really does seem like the entire movie watching experience is meant to be a reflection of the life of the protagonist which is severely lacking in both the certainty and the realism departments. To that end, The Machinist manages to showcase for us a quite surreal set of things that occur that are also surrounded by just as surreal imagery yet still manages to tiptoe across the line back into an objective reality thus leaving you in a state of absolute bewilderment to match that of our chief protagonist in regards to the exact direction that the narrative is headed. Yet it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn dear reader that the main positive this movie has going for it is the actor in the role of Trevor, Mr. Christian Bale. Indeed not only is this one of the best performances of his career as an actor, but Bale also manages to make it quite the intriguing and unnerving performance, and from a psychological and pathos point of view, does a terrific job of embodying this character that doesn’t spill any secrets and also engages the audience completely. As for the physical aspects of the performance it should be noted that the metamorphosis done by Bale is both terrifying and yet intriguing if for no other reason than the fact that it showcases both a deep dedication to this performance and the craft of acting as a whole, but also to a level of self-discipline that is applaudable and praise worthy (though I still wouldn’t recommend trying it before consulting with a doctor….just to be safe). Indeed it’s not that his co-stars are all terrible because they are not; in fact they all manage to fit in perfectly into this nightmarish world as the enigmatic individuals that dot this terrifying landscape, but rather it’s the fact that Bale manages to quite simply become the character he is portraying in this film in a manner that few other thespians would ever think of even attempting, and as such, his effort to this very day still manages to be one of movie magic’s most intense, potent, and incredible efforts that I have ever seen.
All in all it is my distinct opinion that The Machinist manages to not only be an absolutely brilliant and riveting representation of a living nightmare at its purest, most commonly shared by all of us as people, and just downright horrifying in all the best ways forms possible, but is also a movie that has a terrific additional positive in the form of one of the greatest, in regards to both just the absolute physicality to say nothing of the dramatic talent needed in order to pull it off, performances that we as a film going audience have gotten to witness from the gifted thespian that is Christian Bale. More than that however, this is one film that somehow manages to nail everything that it is supposed to from the dreary, otherworldly, and nightmarish yet riveting look of the overall world the film is set in all the way to the musical accompaniment for the film which is both restrained yet potent in every way. Indeed, with neither a shot that feels unnecessary or a line of dialogue that feels forced or shoehorned in, The Machinist manages to prove a brilliant representation of ultra-fine yet also powerfully potent thriller filmmaking on a level that would make both Hitchcock and Lynch delightfully impressed, but also intrigued and green with envy that they didn’t come up with it first. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Machinist “04” a solid 4 out of 5.