Friday, December 17, 2004

Movie: The Machinist (2004)

I’ve come up with two reasons why Brad Anderson isn’t a better-known filmmaker. One is that his work isn’t easily pigeonholed. In the past few years he’s made the off-kilter romantic comedy NEXT STOP WONDERLAND, the sci-fi love story HAPPY ACCIDENTS, and the truly chilling psychological horror film SESSION 9. My other theory: too damn many Andersons behind the camera. We’ve already got Wes, Paul, and Paul Thomas to keep straight. Four may be pushing it.

Christian Bale stars in his latest film and lost some weight for the part. Maybe too much, because reports on Bale’s shockingly thin frame seem to be the only attention the movie is getting. Lisa Schwarzbaum focuses on it in her ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY review to the exclusion of all else.

Which is unfortunate, because THE MACHINIST is a creepy and unsettling film. Bale plays Trevor Reznik, a factory employee in freefall. He’s unable to sleep at night and growing isolated from his coworkers. His only human contact comes from Jennifer Jason Leigh as a tired prostitute and a friendly waitress (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) at an airport café. Trevor begins seeing things which may be the beginnings of a vast conspiracy against him – or the onset of a nervous breakdown.

Anderson and writer Scott Kosar establish a powerful mood of foreboding in the opening half hour. It’s so relentless, though, that soon it begins to seem comic; just how bleak is this poor bastard’s world gonna get? But the ending packs a real emotional punch. There’s an elegance to the explanation of what’s happening to Trevor. It may not come as a shock; I had figured it out but got the specifics wrong in some surprising ways. But, as with the climax of SESSION 9, it reveals that the evils visited on the characters have a cause that is all too human.

The movie was filmed in some desolate urban locations in Spain that add to the sense of dislocation. And Bale gives an intense performance that bodes well for his upcoming turn as Batman.