RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 6: Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist” (2004)


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The Players…

Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, John Sharian and Michael Ironside.


The Story…

Industrial machinist Trevor Reznik has been suffering from insomnia for a year. His physical and mental health have all but wasted away. So much that when he keeps finding cryptic Post-Its creepily popping up in his apartment suggesting his next courses of action, he asks himself is it just the lack of sleep, or has his mind really gone? Who’s leaving these notes? What are they trying to say? And what’s with the kooky new guy at work who knows too much about Trevor’s plight? It’s impossible to keep it all clear.

If only he could sleep on it.


The Rant…

Ever have insomnia? Sure you have. I’ve had many a sleepless night, none of it romantic. And the next day…well, let’s just say that sleep dep’ makes everything really neat. The sunlight seems brighter. The sounds seem noisier. The idea of breakfast makes you wanna puke. Or that’s just your vacant stomach demanding caffeine. Anyways, you plum don’t feel like yourself. It feels like a second reality. The kind you wish you could wake up from.

Heh. Irony. Let’s meet our sleepwalker…


Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale at his most gaunt) has had insomnia for a year and is skeletal and grotesque for the worse. For real. You ever seen a 119 lb. weakling flex? The spine in such a context should only be seen by a neurosurgeon. Welcome Reznik. And weight’s not all he’s lost. A bit of sanity too. Like I said, no sleep. Makes work relations a bit difficult too. When an industrial accident occurs more or less due to Reznik’s neglect, it sparks a chain of events.

Enter Ivan. Yeah, he’s important.

As the new arc welder, Ivan makes an impression on Trevor. An all too comfortable impression. Big, burly and with a lust for life, Ivan is freewheeling, lacks pretense and enjoys giving Reznik a hard time. Much talk about work and happenstance occurs at the local watering hole often, and Trevor can’t help this pernicious feeling of déjà vu when chatting up Ivan. No matter. Work is work and play is play. Just don’t ask Trevor to go fishing.

What’s a chronic insomniac to do? Stop at the local airport café, have a cuppa joe and flirt with the graveyard shift waitress. It’s cleaner than soliciting the local call girl (Leigh) for a blowjob and a cold mattress. She seems comfortable enough. Make it a nightly ritual away from the noise and clatter from the machine shop. Was it mentioned that Trevor is a lifer in an industrial machine shop? Oh yeah, also the monotony of work is getting to him (hence the title for you slower readers). Or is it something else…?


Something else. If you’re a casual watcher of psycho thrillers, this film’s for you. Otherwise it requires an attention span. Like I said, Bale is a fright, both physical (especially physical) and mental. Quick to rile, slow to even out, paranoid and prone to rage. Like I said, the ravages of insomnia. What’s amazing about this film is how deep Bale’s commitment was to this role. He’s tense, intense and minus pretense (how’s that for pseudo-alliteration?). A tragic figure of his own undoing. His capacity for frothing rage in the face of paranoia is just a shade over the top. That’s a minor carp overall. But it’s also kinda handy since there is not a single scene which Bale is not in. You really ride along with Reznik’s character, through the ugly and the…other stuff.

The only problem with this film is the pacing, and it’s not by much. Bale is so quick to rile it becomes bookmarks for each chapter of the film. Don’t get me wrong, Bale nails paranoid anger very well, but when it repeats itself to the point of minute-on reaction, well the novelty runs thin after awhile.

Otherwise the acting was impeccable. It was difficult not to relate to any of the characters. Like I said, Bale embodies the sleepless nights and the trippy days we’ve all had because of it. He carried the whole film, and quite well and tastefully too. Strong shoulders, even in light of the juicy paranoia that Reznik starts to inhabit well too quick.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Although this is a piece of film that has been done before, a nice twist on the addled-mind paranoia thriller (like the Pacino vehicle Insomnia) is always a welcome sight. Now go get some sleep.


Stray Observations…

  • I read somewhere that Bale more or less starved himself for this role on a strict diet of only water, apples and a can of tuna fish daily. The director had to chide him into the occasional protein just for survival’s sake.
  • It’s hard to believe a year after this film was made Bale would don the cape, cowl and coolness that is Batman.
  • “Jesus Christ!” “I’ve tried him too.”
  • Nice tee shirt there towards the end.

Next Installment…

Uh-oh. Ryan Reynolds slings the ring as Green Lantern.


 

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