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Building The Perfect Machine
by Matt Forsman on Oct 21, 2004
A gaunt Christian Bale (American Psycho) leads a bleak existence as Trevor Reznik, an insomniac machine operator. Despite his emaciated appearance, it’s quite evident that Reznik is toting some serious baggage. He is leaden as he plods through his marginal existence lifelessly. A bizarre workplace tragedy throws Reznik’s feeble existence into a tailspin raising questions about who Reznik is, his past, and ultimately, his sanity.
Bale turns in a brilliant performance as the tortured, insomniac machine operator. Bale’s performance is impressive both physically and emotionally. In addition to losing sixty plus pounds to play the role of Reznik, Bale brings a profound emotional fraying to his portrayal of the exhausted and tormented machinist. Reality is a concept that is ill defined at best in Reznik’s world. Reznik teeters precipitously on the tightrope of sanity and Bale walks this tightrope with uncommon grace.
Complimenting Bale’s powerful performance is Jennifer Jason Leigh’s turn as Reznik’s prostitute girlfriend, Stevie. Stevie ekes out a comparably bleak existence as a cheap hooker who has an affinity for abusive men and the skeletal Reznik. On the upside, Stevie doesn’t suffer from pronounced insomnia as her favorite ‘John’, Reznik does. Leigh vividly portrays a woman who is emotionally and physically wasted. It is a depressingly fitting couple Reznik and Stevie make.
Reznik’s tenuous grasp on reality takes a turn for the worse when he witnesses a horrific tragedy while on the job. Complicating matters is the strange appearance of a menacing bald man (‘Ivan’) in the factory where Reznik works. It is while staring at the enigmatic Ivan distractedly that tragedy befalls the coworker Reznik was supposed to be helping. This tragedy catalyzes a bizarre series of hallucinations, revelations, and ultimately, more tragedy.
How much of what Reznik experiences is real and how much of it is imagined is anyone’s guess. Reznik’s addled state begs the question. Perhaps Stevie captures it best when she says, ‘If you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist’. Physically, Reznik is on the verge of disappearing. However, equally disturbing is the thin veneer of reality Reznik is clinging to.
Director Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland) vividly creates a gray dystopian world that mirrors Reznik’s internal world. It’s a lifeless, soulless, dark world virtually devoid of any hope it seems. Anderson creates a waking nightmare in which only someone as troubled as Reznik could possibly reside. Anderson’s vision of this world dovetails nicely with Bale’s bleak characterization of Reznik. I don’t believe the sun shines once in The Machinist and given the events that transpire in the film, it’s not surprising.
Despite the lack of luminance in the film, The Machinist shines brilliantly. Brad Anderson’s story disturbs, but does so in a frightfully engaging manner and Bale’s performance as Reznik is Oscar worthy. Solid writing, direction, and performances round out one of the best films of the year and certainly one of the best psychological thrillers since Memento.
Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
by Matt Forsman on Oct 21, 2004