BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE MACHINIST (2004)

DIRECTED BYBrad Anderson

FEATURING: Christian Bale, , Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, John Sharian

PLOT: A troubled man tries to solve the riddle of his fragmented existence as he becomes

Still from The Machinist (2004)

increasingly tormented by strange visions and apparitions.

WHY IT ‘S ON THE BORDERLINE: The events which unfold in The Machinist are hard to wrap one’s mind around.  It is difficult to ascertain what is real and what is unreal.  Other, more cleverly thought-out films, have handled this same premise with more finesse, however.

COMMENTS:  Honestly? I liked this movie much better THE FIRST NINE TIMES I SAW IT! When it was called:

Dead and Buried (1981), and
Final Approach (1991), and
The Sixth Sense (1991), and
Crazy As Hell (2002), and
The Return (2003), and
Stay (2005), and
Dark Corners (2006), and
Salvage (2006), and
Cold Storage (2006).

The Machinist is a well made Spanish puzzler that waxes somewhat melodramatic.  However, the triggering event for its basic premise, while not overly preachy, is well, kinda damn preachy.  Additionally, somebody should have told the filmmakers that this plot has been produced before (OK, nearly every plot has been previously used one way or another. To wit: Brett Sullivan’s The Chair is basically The Skeleton Key or Child’s Play repackaged, but the premise of The Machinist has been done a LOT.  As such, redoing it yet again demands a very fresh take, and an unconventional handling of the idea).

In The Machinist Christian Bale plays, you guessed it, an industrial machinist who lives and works in a creepy industrial park (the movie was filmed in Barcelona, so you bet they found an imposing-looking one, although a similar location in Bilbao might have been even more grim.)  Bale’s character Trevor is a gangly nervous wreck.  It seems to be a glandular problem.  The poor guy’s heart beats like a rabbit’s.  He has the metabolism of a hummingbird, and he’s losing weight.  A LOT of weight.  In fact Trevor is starting to look like Lara Flynn Boyle, which is to say that his weight loss is going terminal.

But Trevor’s sleep difficulties present an even more serious problem.  Trevor hasn’t slept in a year.  Not a wink.  And now Trevor is seeing spooky things and people who may or may not really be there.  It causes him to have an embarrassing little accident at work.

At this point everything in Trevor’s life starts to deteriorate all the more quickly in a confusing and increasingly sinister jumble.  It’s almost as if the powers of Providence are trying to tell him something.  Something TERRIBLE!

For at least the tenth reworking of the premise, The Machinist wasn’t bad.  Except for the fact that after the first twenty minutes I saw where they were going with the idea and it became tedious and predicable (for me).  Frankly, the most interesting aspect of the film was the imposing, Frank Booth-like character Ivan (Sharian).  It is worthwhile to view The Machinist just to catch Sharian’s portrayal of Trevor’s phantom-like nemesis.

If however, you are unfamiliar with any of the other films listed above, don’t let me discourage you from seeing The Machinist. Or do.  Actually I would strongly recommend Dark Corners, Stay or Final Approach.  Those three films offer a much more sophisticated treatment of the same premise. Unless, of course, you  happen to have the hots for Christian Bale.  Which brings me to my next observation.

Bale’s modification of his morphology  in the movie is an example of what I like to think of as a gimmick.  It is a trick by which we confuse a physical transformation with true dramatic talent.  An example might be a pretty, alluring actress playing the part of a hardened, lesbian killer as with Charlize Theron in Monster.

Of course actresses can get away with turning blech! but we expect the actors to undergo physical transformations. Mel Gibson found that out when he made The Man Without a Face, a film that forced viewers to imagine a reality in which women DON’T want to jump Mel Gibson’s bones. Despite turning in a strong performance that Roger Ebert was obviously queer for, the only recognition the film got was a couple of polite nods from The Young Artist Awards, and those went to the film’s child actors. Ha! Oh well. The critics are fickle

While Matt Damon gained 30 pounds for his role in he Informant (and still looked handsome), Christian Bale lost a dangerous amount of weight for his emaciated persona in The Machinist, and he looks . . . just awful.  Given the acclaim he garnered for that feat of dedicated thespianism, shouldn’t somebody at least produce a film adaptation of the old TV series, “Gentle Ben” for the sake of casting Kirstie Alley?  She needs the career help and she looks the part.  Think about it, Hollywood.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:


The Machinist trailer

7 thoughts on “BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE MACHINIST (2004)”

  1. You know, I hadn’t even really thought about this as a weird movie before. I was pretty disappointed with it when I watched it. The pre-release publicity had made it sound intriguing, and yes, I should know better at my age.
    It’s coming to something when the “clue to the terrible secret, in the form of a hangman puzzle on the fridge”, is so obvious that from the word go the entire family are shouting the answer at the screen.
    Personally I found Bale’s weight loss to be a complete freak show. There were scenes where he looked so genuinely awful that it drop kicked suspension of disbelief right out of the window.

  2. I haven’t seen the other films you mentioned (well, save for The Sixth Sense) and never realized The Machinist was so derivative! Even without knowing that I still thought it wasn’t too special, with Bale’s skinniness grossing me out the whole time. Nice mention of John Sharian’s performance, though- Ivan was the most effective character in the film.

  3. I loved the movie, it captured the essence of that ‘timeless’, psychotic feeling of schizophrenia, and the twist in the end brought such a good emotional feeling to it. And Christian Bale did amazing job.

  4. I figured out the first twist the moment i saw that other mysterious character but can you name a film that so perfectly ties together all of the clues into a second big twist?

    I’m really looking for a film that makes good use of Chekhov style efficiency in plot elements.

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