Machinist" is a film which has gathered a great deal of attention due to
the fact that lead star Christian Bale ("Reign
of Fire") shed a shocking 65lbs for the role, transforming himself into
a hollow faced, walking skeleton. The publicity surrounding Bale's dedication
serves the film very well, as it detracts from the fact that, Bale's performance
aside, "The Machinist" is actually a very standard effort, being
entirely predictable and depressingly reliant on conventional narrative clichés.
At the end of the day, whilst "The Machinist" is well-directed and
presses most of the right buttons, it simply offers nothing new, and as a result
fails to stand out from the rest of the ever growing mystery/paranoia genre.
The plot centres upon Trevor Reznik (Bale), a machine
operator who works the night shift and who claims not to have slept in a year.
The insomnia has certainly taken its toll, as Reznik resembles little more than
a bag of bones and has a social life which consists of hanging around the
airport coffee bar. As if things weren't bad enough, the appearance of a
mysterious new co-worker sets his already frayed nerves even further on edge,
leading to a gruesome accident which leaves another man horribly injured. Before
long, bizarre notes are appearing on his fridge, and Reznik becomes increasingly
obsessed with the thought that he is the victim of a sinister conspiracy, a plot
whose nature he is determined to uncover at all costs.
It is unfortunately no exaggeration to state that the
average genre fan will have a pretty good idea where "The Machinist"
is heading after five minutes have passed. This is mainly due to the fact that
director Brad Anderson (also responsible for the vaguely similar "Session
9"), along with writer Scott Kosar (a man whose name is unlikely to be
popular with horror fans, having penned the "Texas
Chainsaw Massacre" and the upcoming "Amityville" remake)
clearly signpost that Reznik is quite mad, an unsurprising revelation which
makes much of the resultant plotting somewhat redundant as the viewer is simply
waiting for the character to wake up to his own dementia.
There is obviously a little more to the film than a simple
case of insanity; however it is tiring and exasperating to sit through yet
another film which hinges on such a traditional gambit. Despite playing his hand
so ridiculously early, Kosar still seems to be under the impression that the
plot is mysterious and intelligent, and he continues to labour the point by
throwing in endless symbolism and metaphor, most of which are glaringly obvious.
In fact, the viewer is left somewhat baffled by the film's lack of innovation,
and at times is left to wonder if all of this obviousness is being used for some
sort of twisted irony or in a ploy to smuggle in a leftfield twist ending –
hopes which are dashed by the film's conclusion, which is exactly as expected.
Such weak plotting would have been more forgivable if
"The Machinist" had a solid core to build upon, though unfortunately
it does not. Apart from the central character, the film is packed with thinly
written stereotypes and groan-inducing red herrings, most of whom serve as
little more than pawns in the would-be grand design. As a result, the viewer
cares little for any of them, if at all, and the film becomes a cold,
unemotional affair. Similarly, there is very little action, and not a great deal
happens beyond a couple of ugly machine accidents and the expected quota of
chase scenes and murky visions. Although the film is never actually dull, it
does leave the viewer waiting for things to happen, teasing with a barrage of
ominous signs and suggestions, without ever really delivering in a satisfactory
These criticisms aside, "The Machinist" does
have a fair few things going for it, which are just about enough to make it
worth watching. Anderson directs with real flair, painting with a well chosen
palette of subdued colours which makes for a gloomy and atmospheric viewing
experience. There are a few genuinely creepy scenes, and whilst most of these
unfortunately lead nowhere, they do keep things moving along nicely. The film
does have an over reliance on flashbacks and dream sequences, though these give
Anderson the opportunity to insert a variety of different stylistic techniques,
some of which are quite startling.
The main reason for
watching "The Machinist" is undoubtedly the performance of Christian
Bale, which is indeed worth the admission fee on its own. Beyond his remarkable
physical sacrifice, Bale brings the somewhat sketchily written Reznik to
twitching life, lending him a sympathy which would otherwise have been
undeserved. Although the character is not a particularly likeable or indeed
realistic creation, Bale at least brings a touch of humanity to the role,
something which makes the tired events of the film far more engaging than they
would otherwise have been.
Although it is difficult to recommend a film purely on
the strength of the star's performance, it is only this which rescues "The
Machinist" from being eminently forgettable, and indeed, is the only thing
likely to stick in the viewer's memory after the credits have rolled.