Christian Bale, looking like a Holocaust victim, plays Trevor Reznik, the titular machinist trapped in some kind of existential netherworld. Over the course of a single year, not only has he lost a horrific amount of weight but, lately, he’s convinced that someone is trying to sabotage his life, maybe even kill him. He thinks it might be the ex-husband of the waitress he’s so fond of or the ex-boyfriend of the kindly prostitute he frequents or perhaps, he suspects, it’s the co-worker whose arm he accidentally lopped off in a factory accident. Whoever it is, it’s freaking Bale out as he shambles around, gaunt-faced and bug-eyed, trying to figure out who’s out to get him and why. As an exercise in the thriller genre, The Machinist is only so-so with a music score that’s a direct lift of Bernard Herrmann’s unnerving strings score for Psycho.
I think that Bale’s performance is a bit show-offy, all the more so because neither director Anderson nor Kosar’s script give him much work with. It’s a meandering, insubstantial script that can’t quite hold our interest for 100 minutes because there’s too little suspense or intrigue here to grab us. The direction is moody and stylish without having much of a story to really support any of it (unlike Hitchcock’s films in which the suspension and tension are completely character- and story-driven). Likewise, the characters in The Machinist are shallow, superficial or just half-baked and, as a result, we make no connection with them. The moral implications of the ending–snarled with pangs of guilt–only serve to diminish whatever value this movie has as a “thriller.” The Machinist, in terms of its gimmicky, save-the-conceit structure, is a bit like the self-consciously clever Memento but not even half as fun. And what’s the point of that?
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Written by: Scott Kosar
Cast: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, John Sharian