Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

Abortion Wars:
A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000

. "The Machinist"

The feeling of guilt operates on many levels and most of them are destructive. Except, of course, to the therapists who thrive on patients willing to pay well to deal with and, sometimes, escape its clutches. Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) seeks a quite different form of therapy to deal with issues of self-penance in this psychological study that enters the area of horror.

When we meet Reznik, he's as gaunt as a Picasso painting of a high school bulimic might be. He's a walking pile of bones with every vertebrae so clearly defined that he'd make a good model for a human anatomy class. He's not complaining about his appearance nor the impossibility of sleep, however, and proceeds with his life. He may not look it, but he's strong enough to run his machine at the shop where he works, as well as to perform with Stevie, a prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh) every other night. On other nights he takes a trip out to the airport diner for coffee. When his waitress Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), for whom he's developing a fondness, talks him into a little pie, he leaves it uneaten.

On a break at work, he sits in his car and suddenly becomes aware of a man in a car next to his--someone he's never seen before. The skin-headed, over-confident Mussolini type (John Sharian) introduces himself as Ivan and explains that he's been brought up from the basement to replace one of Reznik's co-workers in the shop. Later, while helping fellow machinist Miller (Michael Ironside) do a repair on his machine, Reznik's attention is drawn to Ivan working with a welding torch. Something about this hellish appearance of the stranger causes Reznik to back into a switch that turns Miller's machine on at a very bad time. His co-worker loses his arm.

The strangenesses begin to pile up and we begin to perceive that much of this is hallucination, probably brought on by the sleeplessness and the starvation. Who can argue? A cryptically incomplete drawing appears on Reznik's refrigerator like a clue to solving a mystery but creating one of its own. The mystery builds as the drawing later appears more and more complete as Reznik attempts to puzzle it out.

Marie, his attractive waitress at the airport diner invites him to an outing with her and her young son where he has deja vu visions and then winds up with the kid in an altogether too realistic horror pavilion, "Route 666." His relationship with the prostitute proceeds to talk about marriage. The strange man reappears as a confidant and as an accuser.

Is this a nightmare, a paranoid fantasy, the delusions of a man slipping into madness? Somewhere in this trail to dementia as we try to sort out the real from the imagined, we understand that a deep seated need for self punishment is a driving force. But, punishment for what? Have we seen the sources of such deep-seated guilt to explain what this man is doing to himself and putting himself through?

Which is exactly the question writer Scott Kosar and director Brad Anderson want to raise before they reveal the macabre interior psychosis that is driving their drama. This is a film that Roman Polanski, the director of "Repulsion," would have loved to do. Its pale reality is underscored fittingly by the bloodless color palette of Spanish cinematographers Xavi Gimenez and Charlie Jiminez whose desaturation to the blues and cyans (of a prison cell?) mirrors the cold regions of insanity.

Own it today! (Click on item link)
The Blu-ray Edition DVD

  • Audio Commentary by director Brad Anderson
  • Manifesting the Machinist (HD)
  • The Machinist: Hiding in Plain Sight (HD)
  • The Machinist: Breaking the Rules
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer
    The Soundtrack
  • With this performance, Christian Bale enters a rare pantheon of psychological figures who take us into their worlds of fascinating madness. Just as wardrobe and makeup assists the actor in the portrayal of a role, Bale carried it into the realm of the physical. To do it, out of dedication to his craft and to the world of Resnik, he put himself through actual health-endangering weightloss beyond anyone's expectations.

    Bale lost 63 pounds, way more than writer Scott Kosar and director Brad Anderson ever asked him to do. But all who see this film will likely agree that it makes for a heightened sense of reality and an intriguing poster. It also brings the concept of "inhabiting a role" to a new level of realization. Kudos, if not awards, to Mr. Bale!

    Don't know about you, but I'm now going out for some prime rib, a pitcher of beer and some kind of whipped cream desert. Hmm.. maybe chocolate cheesecake. And, Mr. Bale, you're invited to join me!

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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