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The Machinist

At face value, you are going to have a lot of reasons to dislike The Machinist, the latest effort by Brad Anderson who was the director of Happy Accidents and Session 9.

The first and obvious reason would be the Scott Kosar penned script. Kosar’s last gig was as scribe for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake in 2003. ‘Nuff said.

Secondly, the film seemingly looks and feels like it owes a considerable amount of its inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s Memento right down to Christian Bale’s Trevor Reznik, a man whose past is seemingly creeping up on him. The fact that Reznik constantly leaves himself “post-it” note reminders around his apartment doesn’t help diffuse the similarities between the two films either.

So go ahead, hate this film if you choose to. Or you could opt to look past these potential obstructions and allow the whole experience to wash over you instead. If you do, you may just be surprised.

Bale’s Reznik is like a frayed sweater that, much like a car accident, you can’t pull yourself away from watching unravel.

Despite the Memento comparisons, the film actually owes a lot more to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. The thematic uses of suspense, sound, and character coupled with a score that recalls a culmination of classic Bernard Herrmann elements begs to recall Hitch’s greatest hits. And it works. The film is as introspective as any Hitchcockian thriller, as we delve deeper into Reznik’s troubles, we find ourselves plumbing the depths of human nature as well.

The plot must be avoided at all costs, but I think it is safe to skim some of the surface elements. We begin with Reznik dumping a body that has been rolled up in a rug. Surprisingly comedic, the scene shows us what we need to know to begin our journey. It’s also safe to divulge that Trevor works in a machine shop, with the sights and sounds of various drillpresses and arc wielding taking place around him.

We learn that Trevor frequents a hooker named Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and is considered her best customer. When she states that she worries about him because he doesn’t look so good, he informs her that he hasn’t slept in a year.

Another point to note, as it will likely be expressed in every article written about this film, is that Bale lost an incredible 40 to 60 pounds (depending on who is reporting) for the role. Exactly how much Bale lost is somewhat irrelevant; dwelling on describing just how emaciated Bale looks is moot as his appearance speaks volumes.

Reznik also passes time by hanging around an airport coffee shop and flirting with a waitress named Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). The contrast between mother and whore within these two women is strikingly Hitchcockian as well.

When a hangman puzzle appears on Trevor’s fridge, and strange man named Ivan (John Sharian) starts shadowing Trevor at work the plot starts unfurling at a more rapidly increasing pace. Reznik’s main goal becomes solving the puzzle and figuring out why these things are happening to him. His quest leads him in all directions, and the intensity is never too overwrought but remains enhanced by the severity of Reznik (and Bale’s) malnutrition.

Anderson and Kosar offer countless puzzle pieces for their viewers to mull over during the course of the film, and each one is multi-layered and meaningful. Not all of these clues work into the ending the way one might expect, and this adds to the overall flare of the film.

Bale’s performance stands out here, and makes the film worth checking out alone. Also notable is Leigh’s hooker with a heart of gold, a recycled conceit that Leigh somehow manages to pull off, making us invest in her character.

Films like The Machinist seemingly scream out “twist-ending,” especially with the use of the hangman puzzle device. Those growing tired of these passé devices might find themselves surprised here. The subtle approach makes the whole thing come together not only in an agreeable fashion, but seamlessly as well.

Not a perfect film, but a captivatingly introspective thriller with an interesting payoff that is worth checking out.


Mario Anima

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