The Machinist Review
Insomnia can drive a man insane, twisting his perceptions, eradicating his sense of time and distorting his memories until life becomes nothing but a blur with no definable beginning or end. It is therefore fitting that The Machinist raises these exact concepts, creating a dreamlike and surreal world that forces the viewer, out of morbid curiosity, to keep watching to try and unravel the very complex and seemingly mad puzzle in front of their eyes.
Trevor Reznik hasn't slept in a year – as a result, he is a living skeleton, a man who if he was any thinner, "wouldn't exist". He spends his days working as a machinist, whilst spending his nights with hooker Stevie, a woman who he is slowly falling in love with. As Reznik continues to fade away, growing ever more exhausted, he must also contend with cryptic and bizarre messages around him – suggesting something ominous that lurks in his past is now about to surface once more...
The Machinist is a cold and sterile look at one man's descent into insanity and total paranoia, yet writer Scott Kosar still manages to create a palpable sense of emotion and colour within this bleak environment. From the relationship Reznik forms with Stevie, along with the friendship he strikes up with waitress Maria, Kosar illustrates the very human aspect of his story, whilst also highlighting the surreal, warped surroundings that envelope his senses and distort his view of the world. In many ways, The Machinist is presented like a jigsaw, forcing the viewer to slowly reassemble the narrative into a cohesive whole, all the while drawn through the story's labyrinths due to the sheer power of Christian Bale in the lead role. As Reznik, Bale excels, going past the gimmick of his weight loss (he shed 60 pounds before shooting began) to form a real person, a real persona, in the minds of the viewer. Bale is vulnerable, terrified, paranoid and questionably insane – traits that he conveys through a superb physical performance, fully embracing the role in all of its emancipated glory. Superb character actor Jennifer Jason Leigh, Spanish actress Aitana Sánchez-Gijón and sinister menace John Sharian all also excel in their supporting roles.
Just as Kosar's script is perfectly on the button and Bale excels in the titular role, director Brad Anderson also compliments the film enormously thanks to his inventive visual style and skill at creating a sense of dread and menace in every frame. Anderson's palette is an assortment of greys, shades of colour that almost become a character in themselves – Los Angeles is shot through a bleak scope, emphasising the perpetual pain of Reznik's condition. However, The Machinist never becomes a melodrama – instead, bursts of colour and emotion help move the narrative along, continuing to entice the viewer as more fragments of the truth are revealed, and Anderson revels in his role as the film's illusionist. Special mention must also go to the film's cinematographers, Xavi Giménez and Charlie Jiminez, who compliment Anderson's directorial style immensely; furthermore, composer Roque Baños's haunting motifs and melodies help to add to the film's unnerving atmosphere.
Some critics have compared this film to Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko and the works of David Lynch, although I would argue that with The Machinist, Anderson and Kosar have created a much more human and mature film: Kelly and Lynch indulge themselves in the downright bizarre, whereas Anderson and Kosar have stayed very much in the realm of human emotion and plausibility whilst crafting The Machinist. The film's denouement, which may come as a shock to some viewers, actually acts as a very rewarding catharsis and firmly slots all the jigsaw pieces into a very clear-cut whole – Reznik, as a character, is finally defined and understood within the last few moments of the film. It's very powerful stuff, indeed.
Many people wouldn't know it, but The Machinist was actually funded by a Spanish studio for a relatively low price tag. It is testament to the talents of the crew that Barcelona actually looks and feels completely like downtown Los Angeles, and, more to the point, a lack of a high budget doesn't prevent the film from looking and feeling like a very compelling and intriguing cinematic experience.
Released by Paramount Home Entertainment, The Machinist looks and sounds great on DVD.
The menus are atmospheric and very easy to navigate.
Aside from the odd bit of grain, which is understandable considering the film's budget, the transfer looks great. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, colours are reproduced superbly, with very good levels of detail and no artefacts visible.
A choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or Stereo soundtracks is on offer: both are crystal clear, however, with the 5.1 surround-sound mix obviously being the better of the two. Although not the most bombastic mix ever committed to DVD, the speakers are used to good effect and dialogue is constantly sharp and clearly audible.
The main extra is an audio commentary by director Brad Anderson, which is informative if a little too dry. Anderson's voice makes him sound somewhat disinterested in the proceedings, although if you listen closely you'll be rewarded with a wealth of information on the production.
Eight deleted scenes, without audio commentary, are presented on the disc: some are interesting, although on the whole the film's editor made the right decision to cut them from the finished film as they add little.
A 25-minute making-of documentary, 'The Machinist: Breaking the Rules', is unfortunately somewhat lacklustre and tedious to watch. It has snippets of interviews with the main players, including Christian Bale, yet the relatively thin amount of information provided is frustratingly stretched over half an hour.
The theatrical trailer and a selection of "previews" for other Paramount DVD releases round off the special features.
A superbly atmospheric and well-conceived film is presented on a technically-sound DVD; the upcoming R2 release may have an exclusive interview with Brad Anderson and a DTS soundtrack, but in this reviewer's opinion, this release is perfectly sufficient – and already available.