THE MACHINIST directed by Brad Anderson, written by Scott Alan Kosar, produced by Julio Fernández, with Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Aitana Seanchez-Gijón. 98 minutes. A Paramount Classics release. Opens Friday (November 12). Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
There's a new strain of madness swirling through the movies this year. You see it in the way Nicole Kidman's eyes dart around in Birth, or in the certain, blank eyes of the adults in The Village. Julianne Moore shows it in The Forgotten, too, at least before the heavenly Hoover shows up. And it's there in Christian Bale's body. In The Machinist, Bale plays Trevor Reznik, an insomniac in an unnamed city, pursued by real and imagined tormentors.
Lighter by 63 pounds, gaunt and cadaverous, Bale as Reznik looks like something by Giacometti, or out of Auschwitz. "If you were any thinner," says his prostitute girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), "you wouldn't exist." Reznik's fear drives The Machinist, but his body is both its special effect and its philosophy.
But what produced it?
Directing a screenplay by Scott Kosar, who wrote the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Brad Anderson shoots the film in complementary shades of paranoia and gore. At the machine shop where he works, Reznik gets blamed for an accident that separates a co-worker from his hand. There's a shadowy menace following him around in a muscle car. What did he do to deserve all this?
Like the characters in Birth, The Village and The Forgotten, his chief crime is to be living while others are dead. Plot ambiguities in The Machinist cloud the details of his guilt, but the message is clear. There is a price to pay for surviving.
Reznik cleans obsessively, scrubbing the grout in his bathroom floor with a toothbrush and bleach. He hasn't slept in a year. He imposes a rigid order on much of his life but ignores the fridge in his kitchen seeping blood.
On first look, The Machinist is a run-of-the-mill psychological thriller, aiming to be the missing link between David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers and Spider. The deliberate narrative uncertainties, the bleached blacks and greens, the shocking transformation of Bale's body all conspire to place the film in a world of familiar creepiness.
But the intensity of Reznik's anguish combined with the severity of Bale's appearance throw this movie into another register. This is a 9/11 movie, one of a growing number about characters who feel guilt and rage in the face of death and direct that feeling inward. Skeletal and silhouetted in the film's spooky lighting scheme, Bale does look like sculptures and photographs we've seen of tormented bodies.
But he also recalls those dark figures that leapt from those buildings on the day and plunged straight downward.