Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

The Machinist

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 1, 2004

Directed by Brad Anderson/Screenplay by Scott Kosar/Starring Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Michael Ironside/Paramount Classics

A remarkably skinny factory worker with insomnia comes to believe that there’s a conspiracy against him. And you thought your life sucked.

The Machinist is one of those movies that a lot of people probably won’t go see in theaters. There are various reasons for this, all of which are pretty much inexplicable. Some people will consider it “too serious”, “too depressing” or “too arthouse”, or some combination of the above. The fact that it’s getting rave reviews across the board will actually be a turnoff to these people, because for some reason they’ve convinced themselves that it’s somehow a subversive act to ignore films that “the intellectual and cultural elite want you to see.” Then they’ll eventually catch up with it on DVD or cable and say, “wow, I really wish I’d seen that in a theater. That was pretty cool.”

So, if you happen to be one of those people, take this advice from someone who’s decidedly NOT one of “the intellectual and cultural elite” (whatever that actually means). Go see The Machinist in a theater. It’s pretty cool.

Seriously though, just because a film is critically acclaimed doesn’t mean it’s a chore to sit through. It’s not a three-hour Iranian documentary about bisexual goat herders. Not only is there nudity and violence, there’s even a car chase! What more do you want? Prostitutes? Industrial accidents? Spooky amusement-park rides? Disturbingly creepy bald men? The awesome Michael Ironside? Well, it’s your lucky day pal, because The Machinist has all of that and more.

Not to mention that Christian Bale lost 63 pounds to play the lead role. I mean, this is one astonishing physical transformation that you have to see to believe. Though a lot of people I know might ask him, “what’s your secret?” it’s pretty amazing that Bale actually manages to give a terrific performance while basically existing as a bony frame. If that were me, I’d be too busy chanting, “hungry…so hungry” to actually focus on anything else but the nearest piece of food. The guy should get an Oscar nomination just for managing not to take a bite out of Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Then there’s the fact that director Brad Anderson is one of the best (oops, I mean coolest) up-and-coming directors working today. If you’ve ever seen Session 9 (the one about the guys working in the haunted mental hospital) or Happy Accidents (the one where Marisa Tomei falls in love with the time-traveling guy, and Anthony Michael Hall plays himself at a party, that’s a good one), then you know what I’m talking about, even if you don’t realize it. Here Anderson creates a bleak, washed-out city that perfectly mirrors the psychological state of the protagonist…I mean, it looks really cool. Yeah.

The plot is actually really interesting as well, even if it does get predictable towards the end. The movie’s one misstep is that we figure out what this guy’s problem is long before he does, so about halfway through we’re waiting for him to catch up with what we already know. We don’t know exactly what happened, but we get the general direction of where it’s going. As subtle as the film is, we get a few too many clues along the way that reveal a little too much. (Can you believe that the guy who wrote this also wrote that lousy Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake? I know, me neither.) I also have to wonder about these conspiracy movies in general. I mean, when pretty much everyone around you is telling you you’re crazy, wouldn’t you have to at least consider the possibility? At least for a few seconds? People in these movies never seem to do that. Oh well.

Despite all that nitpicking, The Machinist is still a ride well worth taking. I don’t want to give away too much about what happens (you can go read the other critics for that), you just have to take my word for it. If this is playing anywhere near you, you should really check it out. You could even take a date, and if she starts drooling over Christian Bale you can say, “hey, that guy’s bulimic or something. That’s what you like? You’re sick.” How often do you get to do that?

And did I mention that Michael Ironside is awesome in it? Michael Ironside should be in every movie. Unlike Lance Henriksen, who actually is in every movie. Don’t deny it, you know it’s true.

***1/2 stars. 11/1/04

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