Just about every review of The Machinist you’ll read will begin with a pronouncement of Christian Bale’s unfathomably disturbing sixty-three pound weight loss to play central character, Trevor Reznik. This review, self-evidently, will begin no differently. Indeed, the publicity stills for the picture can do little to convey the arresting image of Bale cast in shadow. Fortunately the risk of the actor’s looks overshadowing the way he acts lasts no more than the first few scenes, for Bale puts in a memorably weighty performance in this superior psychological thriller.
The Machinist is essentially one character’s descent into madness. That character – Trevor Reznik – is a heavy machine operator who has not slept and hardly eaten for a year. After Ivan (John Sharian) a bullish and barely acknowledged new co-worker flashes him a goading stare, Reznik accidentally sets off a drilling tool that causes another worker, Miller (Michael Ironside) to lose an arm. Bale is truly mesmerising in these macabre moments, and retreats inwardly as Reznik becomes convinced that there is a conspiracy against him: sinister post-it notes start appearing on the door of his refrigerator, and he finds a picture of a missing co-worker fishing with the increasingly unnerving Ivan. Indeed it is that character more than any other, who becomes the source of his growing neurosis. Ironically, in seeking to unravel the mysterious circumstances of Ivan’s arrival, Reznik himself comes apart; his only solace being the occasional company of two women.
Jennifer Jason Leigh puts in a convincing turn as Stevie – a wasted though caring prostitute to whom Reznik turns for advice and infrequent oral relief. Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), a pretty waitress who works the twilight shift at an airport coffee shop Reznik frequents every night, also offers him some respite from his insomnia. At different points both women tell him that ‘…if you were any thinner you wouldn’t exist’. The statement points precisely to what Reznik most desires, and in its repetition, gives voice to his increasing sense of deja-vous – here representative of the character’s fractured mental state.
Reznik’s bleak interiority is superbly reflected in the cinematography of Xavi Gimenez and Chalie Jiminez. In The Machinist, they have created a palette largely drained of colour, all blue-greys and blacks, punctuated by smacks of Ivan’s vivid red Pontiac Firebird. In this film you see the world though the eyes of its protagonist – imposing and shadowy. The camera is also responsible for highlighting numerous clues that point to the film’s eventual Big Reveal: the pop of a cigarette lighter, a landmark water tower, a Ghost train’s passage to hell are all shot with barely missible significance. Perhaps most notable of all is the fleeting shot of a Rubik’s cube in the kitchen draw of Reznik’s murky flat – a motif for a mixed-up mind in which a series of events seem to no longer resemble a logical, cohesive pattern.
With The Machinist, director Brad Anderson does for the psychological-thriller what Alexandre Aja did for the horror-thriller in the impressively stylish Switchblade Romance (2003), borrowing heavily from the best in the genre and producing something that is, in part at least, homage. Anderson’s film in both storyline and photography references the work of Hitchock, Lynch and Fincher. This theme also permeates the score by Roque Banos, which is unashamedly Hitchockian. But all these composite parts work well together and even though the tricksy plot reveal at the end of the film isn’t that much of a revelation, there is something hugely satisfying in seeing this jigsaw puzzle finally fitting together. The Machinist, somewhat ironically given Reznik’s climactic realisation, is a film you will not easily forget.