Christian Bale in The Machinist (2004)

MACHINIST, THE (Maquinista, El)

(director: Brad Anderson; screenwriter: Scott Kosar; cinematographers: Xavi Giménez/Charlie Jiminez; editor: Luis de la Madrid; music: Roque Baños; cast: Christian Bale (Trevor Reznik), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Stevie), Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (Marie), Michael Ironside (Miller), John Sharian (Ivan), Robert Long (Supervisor Furman), Craig Stevenson (Tucker), Anna Massey (Mrs. Shrike), Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. (Jackson); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Julio Fernández; Paramount Classics; 2004-Spain-in English)
“A chance for Bale to show off his new lean look for what the filmmaker mistakenly thinks is art.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Brad Anderson (“Next Stop Wonderland”/”Session 9”) bases his grim psychological thriller The Machinist on the derivative script of Scott Kosar (tries to emulate literary giants Kafka and Dostoyevsky, but the inane script has more in common with his B-material Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake). Christian Bale plays as the morbid Trevor Reznik, a drill-press operator who has insomnia for the past year and has lost so much weight he’s told by the hooker he regularly frequents, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), “If you were any thinner you wouldn’t exist.” Following in the reverse footsteps of De Niro, who gained mucho weight for his juicy role in Raging Bull, Bale sheds over sixty pounds and weighs in at 120-pounds (the only difference was this role turned out to be not worthy of so much physical effort). Bale now has the look of an emaciated survivor of a concentration camp, but it makes him look just right for a part that calls for him following his insomnia and huge weight loss to come down with a nasty case of paranoia.

The film seemed to borrow the malodorous set from Fincher’s Fight Club, as it takes us into some unnamed industrial wasteland that is also as traumatic a setting as that offered office worker Joseph K in Kafka’s The Trial. This dark surreal mood of no hope is what gives the film its gravitas, and kept this viewer tuned in hoping for some mind-bending results.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Keeping tabs of the humorless zombie-like Trevor as he suffers from depression, memory loss, and anxiety attacks makes for some torturous viewing. Trevor’s activities include: relaxing in bed with Stevie, the proverbial whore with a heart of gold, who makes him feel good about himself by letting him talk; an imaginary idyllic romance with single mom waitress Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) at the airport coffee shop he regularly frequents after midnight; a confrontational obsessive relationship with the imaginary Ivan, whom he confusingly believes is working in the same industrial plant and is after him for some unknown reason but when in his presence is always jovial; compulsively playing an ongoing game of Hangman on a Post-it that he conveniently misinterprets; and the film’s most gruesome scene where Trevor becomes so distracted while helping a fellow worker at the lathe that he accidentally causes him to lose an arm. This causes the workers to all turn against him. Things only go further downhill for Trevor and the film at that point, as this creep-fest glides home on automatic pilot and Trevor continues losing all his wits in a number of drawn-out incidents. The neo-noir thriller never registered as anything more than a chance for Bale to show off his new lean look for what the filmmaker mistakenly thinks is art, but is only a filmmaking lesson in manipulating psychological terror.