DVD Review of The Machinist

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 1/27/06


  The Machinist is the sort of film Hollywood does not dare to make- risky, taut, and smart. While not a great film it certainly is loads better than the usual bilge Hollywood feeds the public. That director Brad Anderson (who directed Session 9) had to go to Barcelona, Spain to finance and film the picture says it all. The film stars Christian Bale (who lost over 60 lbs. for the role) as Trevor Reznik, a machinist who has not slept in a year and is wasting away physically. His only sources of comfort seem to be a prostitute named  Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that he sleeps with, and an airport cafť waitress named Maria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), whom he confesses to. Then, one day, on a break at work, Trevor meets Ivan (John Sharian)- a bald biker dude with a Cajun accent, red sportscar, and a claw for a hand- after his left hand was mangled in an accident. Not long after Trevor accidentally causes the dismemberment of a co-worker named Miller (Michael Ironside) and is shunned at work. He seems to be losing his mind when no one believes him that the reason the accident occurred was because he was looking at Ivan- whom his bosses claim is not on the payroll.

  Weird things start happening and whether or not they are real or figments of Trevorís delusive state of mind is never made clear. He goes out with Maria and her son Nicholas, who has an epileptic seizure in the middle of a ride that shows horrid images that no kidís ride would have. He also has a moment of insight when he tries to take a photo of Maria and Nicholas by a ride. Then, someone keeps leaving Post-it notes on his refrigerator with a hangman and six letter blanks to be filled in. Meanwhile, Stevie is falling in love with Trevor, and vows to give up hooking if they can be together. On another morning Trevor almost loses his own arm in an accident, and he blames the sadistic foreman and his co-workers. His outburst costs him his job, and he spirals out of control. He believes that Ivan is plotting against him, then thinks Miller is out for vengeance (as one of his hangman Post-its says _ILLER). When Miller tosses Trent off his property after he threatens him, he sees the red sportscar Ivan drives and chases after him. But, he cannot catch him. He tries to get himself run over so that he can get the license plate information on the sportscar, and when he does get run over the cops state that the license plate number and the sportscar are his- from a car he owned a year ago, right around when his insomnia kicked in. They accuse him of falsely reporting an accident, and he flees into the sewers. Then, at Stevieís, he sees a photo of Ivan and another co-worker, holding fishing gear, and he believes Stevie is conspiring with Ivan- her ex, he says. She doesnít know what is wrong with Trevor as he explodes, and she explains that the guy in the photo with Trevorís co-worker is not Ivan, but Trevor!

  Trevor heads to the airport cafť, to see Maria, but it turns out she never worked there, and he makes another scene. Trevor takes off, and heads for home, where he sees Ivan heading into his apartment with Nicholas- Mariaís son. He fears Ivan will kill the boy, and when he gets up to his apartment Ivan says he did kill the boy. Trevor and he struggle and Trevor kills Ivan, only to discover that Nicholas is nowhere to be found. Then, while dumping Ivanís body he is discovered by Ivan, and Trevor starts remembering that a year ago he had killed a small boy, Nicholas, in a hit and run accident. He only had a fleeting glimpse of the boy and his mother, and he imbued all the rest about Maria. His guilt literally consumed him. Ivan rides with Trevor, who turns himself into the cops and admits he killed the boy. Heís led to a spartan white jail cell, where he finally sleeps.

  The script is very well-written by Scott Kosar, for all along it seems like this will be a spy or sci fi thriller, when itís really all in the main characterís head. There are immediate comparisons to excellent films of recent years like Memento and The Salton Sea, as well as the doppelganger from Fight Club- although this filmís revelation makes sense, whereas Fight Clubís made no sense. But, I found eerie parallels to a narrative strand from 13 Conversations About One Thing, wherein Troy, a lawyer played by Matthew McConaughey, hits and runs a woman, and is so consumed with guilt that he exacerbates his own injuries in the accident to punish himself. Trent takes this even further, but it works. There is a definite Hitchcockian feel to the film, and much of its dark, industrial lighting gives it a nourish feel that adds to the nightmare quality that sci fi films like Cube and Dark City mined so successfully. The film does it so well that the fact that a film titled The Machinist isnít a sci fi film comes as a shock.

  Perhaps the only downsides to the film are Leighís hooker with a heart of gold (although she does what little she can with the role) and the ending. As Trevor sleeps he dreams of the first few moments after the accident and then we get a fade out. There should have been something more definitive and climactic than merely Trevorís getting shuteye. The end feels almost tacked on, as if Kosar had no idea how to get out of the corner he painted his character into. Still, were this a Hollywood film there would have been car explosions, pedophilia, and many other overblown elements. The best thing for this screenplay was that it had to be made overseas. There are a number of excellent little points in the film, such as scattered Dostoevsky and Kafka references, Trevorís looking eerily like his Nine Inch Nails namesake Trent Reznor, Trevorís choosing to turn left, in the Route 666 kidís ride with Nicholas, and in the sewers, when he encounters forks in a road, until the end, where he turns himself in and turns right on the highway, which picks up on the mangled left hands of Miller and Ivan and other left aligned things in the film. Also, Michael Ironside- who works far too little- seems to always lose a limb in his films.

  As for the features, the commentary by Anderson is cogent and not too fellatric, while the featurette provides some interesting insights into the sad way Hollywood dumbs down culture by refusing to make good films like this. Overall, this film wonít be in the pantheon of anyoneís psychodramas, but itís well worth a watch or two. When was the last big budget Hollywood effects extravaganza you could say that about?

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