Christian Bale, to be honest, seems like a bit of an asshole. I’m basing that solely off of his outburst on the set of Terminator Salvation, but one thing’s for sure, he’s an amazing actor. Maybe he’s not an asshole? Maybe he’s just extremely proud of his work, and so he should be. Especially when he’s been hammering out movies such as The Machinist throughout his career time and time again. It’s a shame nobody went to see it on its initial run, but at least there’s still appreciation for one of his best recognised roles.
Instantly, this movie is a difficult watch, especially if you’re freaked out by Christian Bale’s dramatic weight loss. That’s basically what this film is known for. Everybody has seen the gruelling photos where he actually did lose that much weight, but nobody ended up seeing the film. That should be a warning, right? Maybe the film isn’t all that good if nobody ended up actually bothering to see it. Well, they’re wrong, because The Machinist is actually pretty good. Not great, but enjoyable enough that I got invested in this twisted and sickening story.
Possibly the most important part of enjoying yourself with this film is letting that sickening story unfold, staying along for the ride on a story that may alienate many. It’s quick to get into that mind frame of rejection when it comes to as strange a story as this one, but it’s definitely worth letting yourself get invested, especially when it’s so intricately detailed. To be honest it still doesn’t fully make sense to me, but what I do understand of it I thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe it’s best described as Memento but not in the right order. A lot of flashbacks, forwards and a whole dosage of dream sequences for added measure. It’s a genuine surprise that this style of storytelling works so well.
But a story can only be so good as its lead performances, and aside from shock value, Bale’s performance doesn’t really offer much else. If it weren’t for the dramatic weight loss and the dream state of the story, this would be just another drama movie. Bale’s performance is solid nonetheless, as is the supporting Jennifer Jason Leigh, who keeps happening to crop up in a lot of movies I watch these days. The two have some definite on screen chemistry together, that’s not the issue, I’m not entirely sure what the issue was. By all means is it an interesting story, but there’s something lacking throughout.
Maybe it’s that director Brad Anderson is more focused on stressing his audience out than making anything that can be fully accomplished. Sure, the plot is an interesting one, it’s certainly unique anyways, but it never feels like the direction is complimenting the source material, and vice versa. There’s some darker moments in this film that seem to crop up out of the blue, mainly those in the factory. Everything about these darker scenes are great, really well directed and the cinematography is gorgeous, but what necessarily do they add to the plot and the movie as a whole?
Anderson has a great eye for direction throughout, specifically with his use of music and the impact this has on the proceedings of the movie. For the most part the soundtrack added a great deal of mystery, something really needed throughout this movie. Well, I say needed, didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on half the time but at least the movie is trying to give us a well thought out thriller. And that it does, because The Machinist is actually really good when it digs itself into the plot. I don’t really have any overbearing problems with the movie, except for an up and down Bale performance.
Actually, there is one major problem. Not just that I don’t understand it, but, actually no it’s just that I don’t understand it. The movie isn’t confusing by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just a seemingly forgettable movie. I don’t remember what happened at the end, all I remember is being fixated on how terrifying Christian Bale looked. He looks worse as the film goes on too, which I assume is to indicate that he’s slipping further into that paranoid insomnia. But if that’s the case why does it feel like nothing is really changing in regard to the plot, tone or style of the movie?
As I said before, you need to let yourself get fully invested in this movie. Trevor Reznik as a character is superbly well written, but could’ve been performed a bit better by an actor who is so genuinely passionate about his work. There’s some stressful scenes that include Reznik, that scene with the arm caught in the machine is possibly one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen in a long while. But there’s just something about this film not letting me get fully invested.
Sure, that’s very hypocritical of me to say. Recommending you open yourself up to the film and at the same time not doing so myself, but such is life and I did it anyway. Even when I didn’t, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with The Machinist and for all its faults it’s a very solid thriller that should’ve performed much better financially than it did upon its release. With some resounding work from Bale as ever, and a great bit of direction from Anderson, there’s certainly a lot to gain from watching this movie.
But at the same time, it’s not Bale’s best work. Nor is it Jennifer Jason Leigh’s best work, or Michael Ironsides best work, Anderson’s best work and the list goes on and on. It’s a fine film, a perfectly good example of how darker tones can make a thriller movie truly terrifying. Some extremely interesting tones are ruined by some not so interesting plot points that others seem to truly love and get behind. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon when it comes to rehashing age old thriller techniques. Whatever the case, I didn’t fully get behind The Machinist, but I absolutely enjoyed it for what I got.