- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2004

“I think I’m falling apart,” confides Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik, the emaciated lathe operator who is dying from insomnia in “The Machinist,” a character study of demoralization that is calculated to confirm the self-appraisal.

As psychological horror fables go, this one plays relatively fair with the clues and evasions needed to sustain the depiction of a breakdown eventually traced back to a specific traumatic episode. The leading man, who starved himself down to an impressively gaunt 120 pounds, and director Brad Anderson keep the process of deterioration intriguing, although they fall well short of the sinister distinction achieved by Guy Pearce and Christopher Nolan in “Memento” or Gene Hackman and Francis Ford Coppola in “The Conversation.”

While Mr. Bale denies himself calories, Mr. Anderson skimps on color. “The Machinist” is printed in a bleached-out process that turns most of the imagery monochromatic. It’s meant to be an attention-getter when something colorful slips into camera range, such as an elusive red automobile.

Mr. Anderson’s feature career began in 1998 with the beguiling Boston-based romantic comedy “Next Stop Wonderland,” which provided early introductions to Hope Davis and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Conspicuously preoccupied with sensory derangement in “The Machinist,” the director attempts to warp or straitjacket his own illustrative methods in eerily effective ways. Most of what we see is filtered through Trevor’s unreliable perceptions, dulled by the chronic insomnia that has plagued him for a year.

Not that objective reality departs completely. Certain figures — Anna Massey as a landlady, Jennifer Jason Leigh as an affectionate hooker, numerous factory co-workers — are meant to be tangible enough. However, a beefy, smirking snake in the workplace called Ivan (John Shurian, who suggests a reincarnation of Telly Savalas) has clearly crossed the line into predatory hallucination.



One disorienting aspect is cleared up by the end credits: The movie was shot in Spain. The rather skeletal simulations of a bleak, industrial American setting are always slightly out of kilter. You never feel as if Trevor actually resides in some disarming small town or secluded block in a sizable town. He’s a transient occupant of an unstable state of mind.

Regrettably, the misfortune that started Trevor’s tailspin seems flimsy and mundane as the payoff for this particular case of self-loathing and remorse. The elaborately stylized forms of concealment and wretchedness, all persuasively embodied in Mr. Bale’s masochistic performance, create far more drastic expectations than the denouement can satisfy. Mr. Anderson seems to be banking on a “there but for the grace of God” pathos, but he hasn’t provided adequate collateral.

It’s almost as if Trevor’s ordeal can be cured by surrendering to a good night’s sleep. “The Machinist” gears itself up for self-destructive fireworks and then goes out with a whimper.

***

TITLE: “The Machinist”

RATING: R (Sustained ominous and morbid elements; occasional graphic violence, nudity and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Directed by Brad Anderson. Written by Scott A. Kosar. Cinematography by Xavi Gimenez. Production design by Alain Bainee. Costume design by Patricia Monne. Music by Roque Banos.

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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