[box cover]

The Machinist

This heavily atmospheric 2004 mystery-drama stars Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik, a positively skeletal machine-shop employee whose life is unraveling for reasons that are, at best, murky. Something has happened to him, something terrible — whatever that something is, it's left him alone and lonely, his only relationships with a sympathetic hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) — whom he patronizes regularly enough that they've developed a closeness beyond commerce — and a lovely waitress (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) at an airport coffee shop that Trevor visits in the middle of the night. Having gone without sleep for a year, Trevor's also wasting away physically, weighing himself and marking his downward progress on Post-It notes in his bathroom — a bathroom that he compulsively scrubs in midnight cleaning sessions on his hands and knees with bleach and a toothbrush. The appearance of a creepy new employee at the shop and an accident — caused by Trevor, that costs another machinist his arm — sets off a string of increasingly strange events that could, possibly, be all in his head, not the least of which is an ominous game of hangman that keeps appearing on those Post-Its. What makes The Machinist feel fresh despite its seemingly well-trod premise is the twist in perspective — most films of this type work hard to make us believe that the hero is truly being messed with by someone else. But here, we suspect from the outset that all of Trevor's problems are the result of his own troubled mental state, and the process of discovering the genesis of his demons as he falls ever more apart is riveting. Director Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland, Session 9) studied Hitchcock for the pacing and cinematography of the film, with a script by Scott Kosar. It's the sort of movie that was obviously made out of enthusiasm for the material — a dark, dark movie, the script was well-received in Hollywood but unable to find funding until Anderson came on board and took it to Europe, shooting it in Madrid with a Spanish crew. The entire picture rests squarely on Bale's bony shoulders, and he delivers an impressive, tour de force performance. He's the sort of actor who's always excellent even when the film itself is mediocre (cf: Reign of Fire, Equilibrium), and his commitment to this character goes well beyond just starving himself to lose a terrifying 60 pounds from his already lean frame. The Machinist isn't a terribly deep film but, as an exercise in style, it's very watchable and occasionally disturbing. Paramount's DVD release offers an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that makes the most of the desaturated gray-green color palette Anderson employs, while also dragging the details out of even the darkest scenes. The audio, in Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 surround (in English with optional English subtitles) is equally good, particularly during the more tense machine-shop scenes. Extras include a commentary track by Anderson that's a little dull but detail-intensive — but be warned that Anderson seems to take it on faith that you'll have already seen the entire film and know how it ends, so wait to listen until you're ready to go back and see all the ways he set up the final reveal. Also on board is a very good featurette, "The Machinist: Breaking the Rules," which includes a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes footage (25 min.), five deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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