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Machinist, The

dir: Brad Anderson
[img_assist|nid=962|title=If this acting thing doesn't work out, Christian Bale could always do catwalk|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=400]
This is a film about a pretty strange guy. Trevor Reznik (Christian
Bale), no, not Trent Reznor, who is a strange guy anyway, is an
emaciated insomniac who works a blue collar job and seems to be losing
his marbles. He leaves himself messages which he doesn't understand,
his only meaningful relationship is with an understanding and
supportive prostitute called Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and the
world itself seems to be working against him in exciting and new ways.

Bale's transformation into this sickly creature has to be seen to be
believed. I'd heard much about the fact that Bale had lost a lot of
weight for the role, but I could not imagine the lengths the guy would
go to in order to be remembered. It's staggering, it really is.
It's one of the most amazing examples of self-mutilation I've ever
seen for a job. Sure, womenfolk do it all the time and it's
considered par for the course in Hollywood, but he makes himself look
so emaciated that I imagine had they shown a picture of Bale as this
Reznik character to concentration camp victims in 1945 the poor
survivors would have shrieked in horror, and wept tears of pity and woe
in his honour.

It's horrible, but, in the end, it makes a lot of sense for the
character. He is very, very disturbed. And it's not just for the sake
of it. It's not just so the girls can go all dreamy like they usually
do over disturbed male movie characters like Donnie Darko, Napoleon
Dynamite
, Bazza MacKenzie and anything played by Johnny Depp. This guy
is the sickening and uncool real deal. I mean the character and the
actor.

He works the line at a factory, with the people around him being
similarly blue-collar, but progressively unsympathetic to his
behaviour. I always find it amusing to see how blue-collar workers are
represented on film. There are these whole sets of stereotypes that are
usually applied, and they're applied here, too. It is not to the
film's detriment, though. If there's one thing that they
consistently represent it's that Reznik's co-workers are
no-nonsense types who take no bullshit and don't respect anyone that
either doesn't do their job properly or who endangers other workers.

That is, except for Ivan (John Sharian). Ivan has recently started
working at the plant, and his mere presence drives Trevor to
distraction at the worst possible times. There's something
disquieting about Ivan, apart from the fact that he looks like Marlon
Brando playing Kurtz at the end of Apocalypse Now. He also has these
long horse teeth, one blue eye and one brown eye, and most of the
fingers missing from his left hand. He is repellent and oddly
compelling at the same time. At least for Trevor, who becomes obsessed
with Ivan, and with the impact he seems to be having on everyone's
lives around him, especially his own.

Trevor is often on the verge of sleep, but something always comes along
to keep him going along his tormented path awake and less than bright
eyed and bushy tailed. Certain symbols and moments seem to be repeating
on him like a bad curry, giving us and Trevor a sense of déjà vu, yet
we're as clueless as he is as to why these moments seem to mean
something very, very important.

The dimensions and quality of Trevor's personal hell keep expanding
and getting more elaborate as more and more situations arise where
Trevor is desperately trying to make sense of what's going on, yet
doesn't seem to be getting any closer to working it out. His actions
aren't always understandable, but they are always interesting,
dragging us with him deeper and deeper into the nightmare.

It's a remarkably well made film, with a tremendous central
performance and an excellent story. I can't say too much about the
story, because, whilst it's not exactly groundbreaking stuff, it is
put together in such a decent way that I'm filled with admiration for
all the people that were involved.

It also fooled me. There was far more going on than I guessed, though
it's not a complicated flick. There are elements in the film that
will be familiar to anyone that's seen any of the direly predictable
twist movies that have infected Hollywood like a pleasant case of
syphilis over the last five years, but it still worked its magic on me.
I thought I'd sussed it all out right from the start, and I was way
off. For once, the ending of this flick is immensely satisfying, gives
a deeply meaningful reason for everything that preceded it, and
doesn't feel like a cheap cop-out or a gratuitous lame gag (unlike,
as an example, the endings to Saw, most Shyamalan films and the last
Australian Federal election).

I continue to be impressed by Christian Bale. I loved him before, and
whilst I don't approve of his Bart-killing policy, I do approve of
his Selma-killing policy. Wait, I meant to say whilst I don't approve
of his radical starvation for the role (it's just a fucking film,
it's not like there's a Nobel Prize for Weight-Loss (yet) or an
award at the Oscars for Boniest Anorexic), I just think he's
wonderful.

He's managed to avoid being typecast for all the years that he's
been working, and can often give solid performances in films that
aren't really that good anyway (like Reign of Fire, the Shaft remake,
the loathsome Captain Corelli's Mandolin), and great performances in
decent flicks (Empire of the Sun, Equilibrium, American Psycho, Velvet
Goldmine
, this film here, hopefully the next Batman film).

I like him, I can't help it. There's something really engaging
about him, regardless of his accents. And as well it is to his credit
that he was able to do as well as he does with the character of Trevor
here, especially when he's already played a complete lunatic before.
No, I don't mean when he played Jesus, I mean when he played the
utterly bugfuckingly crazy Patrick Bateman. That's what they should
put on his tombstone, engraved in stone for a piece of eternity:
"Played Jesus and Patrick Bateman. Now that's a double-act
and half, charlie."

I'd pay for it too. I'll send the hat around and take up a
collection. You guys will chip in, yeah? You're not cheap people, are
you? Some of you, sure, can barely afford a bowl of 2 minute noodles,
but that's because of the fact that you spend all your money on DVD
box sets of obscure and unlamented TV shows long dead, action figurines
and booze. The demon booze. It's got us all in its grip. But then
there's those of you that own your own fucking homes, you
aspirational bourgeois pigs. You can pony up some cash for Christian
Bale's tombstone, surely. Don't make me hire minions to break into
your houses, steal your Franklin Mint plates or rare Magic the
Gathering cards and sell them for a tenth of their worth at a pawnshop,
okay?

Enough of that crap. This is a decent film, have no doubt because of
all my fluttering about like a drunken butterfly. But butch, you know,
a masculine drunk butterfly.

It's strong, and I think it's one of the better films I've seen
this year. Up there with Oldboy, that's for sure. And that's high
praise coming from me.

It's well shot, well put together and looks... amazing as well, in
that much of it felt like I was watching it through the filter of a
migraine. That's not a criticism, it works to maintain the idea that
we're trying to look at the world through Trevor's sleep-deprived,
hungry eyes. Jennifer Jason Leigh is good as well, though her character
is a complete cliché. I think that upon her death Leigh should be
canonised and made the patron saint of prostitutes, because she's
played a working girl so many times. And so convincingly. She's
always interesting, even if a role doesn't give her that much to do
(like here). There are a few other people in the film, but they don't
really matter that much. They do a good job supporting the story and
our lead crazy person in his mission to work out why he's a crazy
person.

It's a consistently good film, and I heartily recommend it to people
that like strange films (that aren't really that strange in the end,
it's pretty conventional, it's just that it's very well made).
Director Brad Anderson has been making some damn fine little films over
the years, especially a creepy low-budget horror film that I loved
called Session 9. This is how good a director Anderson is: he made a
film which had supreme arsehole David Caruso in it and it was still a
decent flick. Well here he didn't have to work with as much of an
impediment and he's done a sterling job.

Except for the soundtrack / score. If there is one criticism that I
have of The Machinist (and I should, since I don't want fuckers
getting complacent) it's that I wish someone else had done the score,
with perhaps a more minimalist / ambient, even a subtle industrial
score (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) instead of what we
got. It just felt slightly incongruous, too upbeat, if anything. I wish
there had been a soundtrack for it more akin to the one for One Hour
Photo from a few years back. But then, that'd be like comparing
apples to the kind of people that have sex with apples: they come from
different worlds.

Still that's a minor complaint. Jolly good film, all the same,
because of the consistency of vision and production design, the decent
story, the appropriate cinematography and the good performances. Eh,
you could do worse.

8 corpses that need to be rolled up in a carpet and disposed
of at the waterfront out of 10. Or do they?

--
"I know who you are. I know who you are. I know who you are." -
Trevor Reznik, The Machinist

Rating: