As unnecessary as it is for Bale to further sharpen our collective focus on gaunt bodies, his physical transformation is part of an arresting, convincing piece of acting. Brooding comes easily to Bale (he's a natural choice for the Batman role), and a prized quality for the kind of Hollywood hunk that he has verged on becoming for the past decade or so. But his physical performance in The Machinist goes far beyond standard film-world pouting. It's brooding with every ounce of sexiness or glamour sucked out -- only skin, bones, and haunted eyes remain.
The real reason behind Trevor Reznik's crippling insomnia -- he hasn't slept in a year, he says -- is not immediately explained. Director Brad Anderson instead focuses on creating the world Reznik must inhabit. The setting is more or less contemporary, though unnamed, but the cinematography by Xavi Giménez and Charlie Jiminez drains out most color; at times the grayness is astonishingly similar to black-and-white photography, until a splash of color like a bright red convertible provides an unsettling reminder. It's never made exactly clear just how interior this perpetually overcast world is.
Although the film is more about mood and character, Reznik is also trying to decipher a series of cryptic post-its left around his dark apartment (his electricity is shut off at some point, but you can hardly tell when that is). Anderson indulges in a bit of fashionable reality-speculation, but we are kept in such close quarters with Reznik, as he haunts an airport diner, visits a prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and toils in the factory, that the disorientation feels mostly natural. What Anderson has assembled, in other words, in a genuine psychological horror show -- not another movie where a serial killer speaks in psychobabble. Bale, in fact, could probably coast through that kind of slick-creepy role (he was great in American Psycho, which was less horror than satire), but in The Machinist he lives and breathes this sad man. As (barely) embodied by Bale, Reznik wins sympathy for his walking-dead attempts to live his life. Reznik seems to be grasping at a normal existence just out of reach.
If The Machinist seems slightly minor and insular in the end -- too enamored of its own puzzles -- it's also tightly constructed enough that (unlike a lot of thrillers and mysteries, psychological or otherwise) it actually makes more sense as it goes along, even though it may seem to make less. Anderson and Bale build something that only sounds like a chore: a character study as its own prison.
The DVD includes commentary track and deleted scenes.
Ghost in the machinist.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th December 2004
Box Office USA: $0.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $8.2M
Distributed by: Paramount Classics
Production compaines: Filmax Entertainment, Castelao Producciones
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 108 Rotten: 33
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Brad Anderson
Producer: Julio Fernández
Screenwriter: Scott Kosar
Starring: Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Stevie, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as Marie, John Sharian as Ivan, Michael Ironside as Miller, Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Jackson, Craig Stevenson as Tucker, Reg E. Cathey as Jones, Anna Massey as Mrs. Shike, Matthew Romero Moore as Nicholas, James DePaul as Reynolds
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