Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Machinist

Walking into Brad Anderson's The Machinist, I was really expecting to love it to bits. I mean, lets look at the facts here. Christian Bale is one of my favourite actors; Psychological thriller is probably my favourite genre; hell, even the DVD cover had a critic quote saying "Fight Club meets Memento". My 3rd favourite film combined with my favourite film. Why the fuck not? So I came out of The Machinist with mixed emotions. I was thoroughly intrigued throughout, but I was quite disappointed that I merely liked it rather than loved it. What we have here is a suspenseful, atmospheric and well-made psychological thriller that has a fantastic centrepiece of a performance, but realistically nothing much else. It could have been so much more, but unfortunately, it wasn't, partly because, to be honest, we've seen it done before, only much better.

The Machinist centers around Bale's insomniac Trevor Reznik (Not Trent Reznor), a factory worker who hasn't slept in a year, causing his deteriorating mental and physical state. After a while, stick-thin Trevor start seeing cryptic notes and messages pop up in his life, not to mention the presence of a mysterious man, who, along with everything else, is enough to bring Trevor to the brink of insanity.

As you can probably see, the plot is about as thin as the film's lead character. Thankfully, Brad Anderson doesn't try and stretch the film out too much. It, unlike many other films of its kind, doesn't overstay its welcome. The film's central performance by Christian Bale, is so good and polarising that you barely notice that there are any other performances in the film. Granted, the supporting performances aren't anything special, but as I said, Bale's brilliant performance sticks out like a sore thumb, in the best sense of the word. In his performance, you won't find the movie-stealing bombast of his Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter. Nor will you find the jet-black satire of his Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. What you will find though, is a side of Bale (Jesus, how many different sides has this guy got?) that you won't have seen before. There is a perfect sense of subdued-ness and nuance that keeps the film on its feet and keeps it moving forward. He is absolutely the heart and soul of the film. Also impressive of course, is how much Bale thinned down for this. He is sickly skinny, but it works perfectly to create the character of Trevor. It's amazing that straight after this he had to bulk back up and then some for Batman Begins. And then he thinned himself out again for The Fighter! I admire this guy, I really do. This is dedication to acting to the finest tee.

But here's the rub. Under the performance that drives it, there isn't really that much that is left. The film is well shot, if nothing exactly daring or special. The bland and dark colour palette of the film works really well to convey the tone of the film, and essentially the psychological state of Trevor. There is an unmistakable sense of unease and suspense throughout that effectively creates a creepy atmosphere, and keeps the audience intrigued and engaged through out the 100 minute running time. And it's definitely very interesting.

So why only 3 and a half stars? Well, there were quite a few glaring flaws that unfortunately I couldn't get my head past. Perhaps the biggest one is that the film is really quite derivative of similar films, and films that have done something like this a lot better, particularly a certain film that I may have mentioned before (hint hint). It also seems quite cliched as far as the genre conventions go. Perhaps I picked this up because I happen to be in the process of actually making a psychological thriller (short film) at the moment. There are quite a few things in this too that seem quite ridiculous and out of place, such as the Route 666 train ride scene. Also, many of the subplots, including the fact that Trevor has insomnia, is mentioned, and then never touched on again. I think the film may have felt a lot more substantial had it developed this idea of Trevor's insomnia a lot further than it did. One other flaw, which is quite petty but it really distracted me, was the film's score. I don't usually pay attention to mediocre film scores, and I'm not necessarily saying that the score is bad (it's not great either), but it just feels out of place, and doesn't work. It'd feel more in place in The Shining.

I really wanted to love this film, I mean it had so much going for it, and mind you I thought it was an impressive piece of filmmaking. But, and I know many are going to disagree with me here, it didn't really do anything special for me apart from Bale's high calibre performance, and at the end of the day, I've seen it all before. I was expecting greatness, and unfortunately I only got goodness, which, for a film that promised so much, was not good enough. 

3.5 out of 5


  1. Nice review dude, your older reviews are much stronger than mine haha. I didn't know what to expect from this, so I was surprised by how interesting and thrilling it was.

  2. Thanks man, I did enjoy it, but like I said, I expected a lot more.