The Machinist Review
Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is tired, and we’re not talking up past midnight tired, or running up the stairs tired, he’s really tired. Trevor hasn’t slept in a year... a year. Sure he dozes off, his eyes start to droop and his head starts to sway, but even the slightest noise will jar him back to the waking world, his record breaking insomnia working as hard as it can to ensure Trevor doesn’t rest. Funnily enough that’s taking a toll on poor Trevor, he’s probably looked better before, in fact, 10 year drug addicts lying on their bathroom floors in a pool of their own vomit gasping their last breaths have looked better. Trevor can’t stop losing weight, he’s gone straight through skinny, ploughed his way through gaunt, left heroin chic long behind him, and is currently sitting somewhere between an emaciated corpse and Skeletor. Mentally he’s not as sharp as he used to be either, and that’s even more dangerous, because it’s not just his wellbeing at stake, Trevor works in a machine shop amongst very large, very dangerous pieces of equipment, and a lack of concentration is just an accident waiting to happen.
The Machinist is a bleak film, in many ways, but the most striking is its appearance. Nearly all of the colour has been bleached from the print, making it almost black and white and very reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s Payback, which sets a downbeat tone from the very first frame. That, combined with some languishing camera work, sets out Brad Anderson’s stall for a movie that isn’t in any hurry to tell you what’s going on, all we know, is Trevor is losing it. Well actually we already know he will, as the first time we see Trevor he’s disposing of a body, who’s we don’t know, but we know he’s been tipped over the edge, and now we get to see how he got there. Now we all know Bale doesn’t have a problem playing someone rather unhinged with an excellent degree of subtlety, his performance in American Psycho wasn’t a one off, and his slow burn towards insanity isn’t that far from Patrick Bateman’s, although he walks a very different path. As the insomnia eats away at Trevor, and he gets thinner and thinner, his concentration starts to falter, which is pretty dangerous in a machine shop, and it’s not long before there’s an accident that leaves one of Trevor’s follow machinists out of of a job, and an arm. This is where the film starts to flourish, as Trevor becomes ever more convinced that there’s a conspiracy afoot at the factory, with everyone determined to see him out of there, or worse. Post-it notes start appearing in his home, adorned with a hangman’s noose, Ivan (John Sherian) - the new welder Trevor blames for his lack of concentration before the accident - starts to become evasive. Nobody at work will admit to knowing him, but Trevor is desperate to track him down, possibly to pass off some of the blame for the accident.
Trevor has two places to turn away from work, and the conspiracy that is plaguing his mind, and they couldn’t be more different. Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) is a coffee shop waitress who’s been drawn in by Trevor. He comes in to see her on the graveyard shift every night, although he wouldn’t admit that was why he was there, he doesn’t talk much and he always leaves extravagant tips. It’s a mysterious combination that leaves Maria curious about what goes on in his mind. The other woman in Trevor’s life might explain the tips at least, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a hooker - the heart of gold type, naturally - and Trevor has been a client for a long long time. Trevor does a lot more talking with Stevie, though he’d do well to talk a bit more, because he has too much on his mind and on his chest. Well, except flesh. Which is The Machinist’s biggest problem, ironically, as it is what got the film so much attention in the first place. No matter what else is going on, whenever Christian Bale takes his shirt off - which is a near constant theme - all you can think is my god he’s thin. Problem is, you’re not thinking it about Trevor Reznik, you’re thinking it about Christian Bale. The effect didn’t lessen over the course of the film either, every time we see his skeletal frame all you can think about is how dangerously thin he became. It just can’t be good for you, rumours have flown around about what he was surviving on, some claiming he was consuming nothing but water and the occasional hard boiled egg, and that’s actually believable to look at him, a shadow of his former self. It’s an indirect breaking of the fourth wall that completely stops you from being absorbed by the film, as every 5 minutes you’re reminded you’re watching an actor playing a role.
Unfortunately for The Machinist that isn’t its only problem, as its clever storyline is rather too close to other movies that have rather entered pop culture zeitgeist, and as such the subtle hints throughout the movie are turned into rather large signposts, all too reminiscent of other successes. Without those to contend with, the flourishing conspiracy plotline could have fully bloomed into a jaw-dropping finale, but when the plot unravels, and we discover how much of Trevor’s supposed conspiracy is real, and just how he began on his downward spiral, you won’t be surprised. Even if you didn’t figure out all the details, there will have been enough seeds planted in your mind to ensure you’re not left open mouthed by the twists. It’s a real shame, because on repeated viewing there is much to enjoy about The Machinist. Of course once you know the ins and outs of the story you can of course sit back and notice all the hints that passed you by the first time, but the real pleasure of the movie is its fantastic cinematography and languid pace, which wrapped around the right story would have been a delight to behold the first time around. The movie has such a striking look it’s almost a shame it has been used here, because if Anderson returns to it anytime soon it will just be remembered as a copy of this film. Not having to try and piece the story together does make the pace of the movie much more agreeable, and combined with a fantastic Hitchcock-esque soundtrack, the tone is perfect for a film trying to straddle the line between horror and thriller. It’s just a shame that this one is too flawed to take advantage of all the benefits.
The Picture and Sound
The Machinist is a film with a very bold visual style, and it takes a lot to properly transfer that to DVD. Sadly Tartan, once again, could have done better in this department as, although the transfer is acceptable, there are some problems. The grain present in the film makes for difficult encoding, and I’d wager that Tartan haven’t allowed enough room on the disc for picture data, as there are some noticeable compression artifacts, as well as some needless edge enhancement. Perhaps if the less than essential DTS track had been omitted the picture quality could have been stepped up. That’s not to say the soundtrack isn’t good, it’s very atmospheric and the most is made of the excellent Hitchcock-esque score, but once again the DTS track is so similar to the Dolby Digital its inclusion is of arguable benefit.
Commentary from Director Brad Anderson
Anderson isn’t a man that has trouble with his words, and he talks at length about the movie without a problem. He carries the track very well for a guy on his own and makes for interesting listening, though those that have trouble with commentaries may want to go straight to the interview with his, as he covers much of the same ground.
UK Exclusive Interview with Director Brad Anderson
Tartan have tried to bring some extra value to the UK market with this interview, and although the black title cards posing the questions rather give the impression this was culled from an electronic press kit, Anderson talks at length on a number of points. He’s quizzed about his influences in the film, and seems to have a great regard - as well as knowledge about - Hitchcock and Polanski, and he’s happy to admit that was the tone he was going for, particularly with the direction the score took. He also reveals that the film’s monochrome appearance was inspired by symptoms of insomnia, as it becomes much harder to perceive colour after long periods without sleep. The interview runs for about 25 minutes, and although it covers some of the same ground as the commentary, Anderson is certainly helped by being led by the questions - and again has little trouble coming up with in depth answers, so this is certainly worth a look.
Making The Machinist
Thankfully this look behind the scenes didn’t come out of the EPK, and its 25 minutes that’s worth taking. It looks at the trials of making downtown Barcelona look like run down LA backstreets, Christian Bale reveals how he really lost all that weight, and we get to watch Brad Anderson trying to direct the movie both on crutches and from a gurney, after causing himself a few injuries.
8 deleted and alternate scenes feature on the disc, though strangely only two carry commentary from Anderson. Knowing the outcome of the movie, there isn’t anything revelatory here, though Anderson shows he was aware of the danger of tipping his hand too early in the movie, as a couple of these scenes would have provided large clues to the finale. It’s a shame so many signposts were left in then, as he was clearly being wary, though it must be tough to gauge how other people are going to react when you already have all the answers yourself.
The disc also carries trailers for Mysterious Skin, Mean Creek, Sliver City and Dig!
I found The Machinist to be something of a disappointment, though certainly an interesting one. It could have gained the kind of cult status that keeps people talking about a film years after its release, but ultimately once Christian Bale’s eating disorder has been dissected to death, The Machinist won’t be hard to forget. The DVD is well presented though, and carries some nice extras, so fans - and the curious - will probably find some value here.