"The Machinist" (IMDb listing), staring a frighteningly gaunt Christian Bale ("Batman Begins," "American Psycho"), Jennifer Jason Leigh ("Road to Perdition," "eXistenZ") and directed by Brad Anderson ("Session 9") is a throw back to the Hitchcock days where a dark and troubled protagonist is tormented by a mysterious man who avoids notice from any of the other characters, further confusing and confounding our lead. Familiar twists and turns are disappointing here, but the mood and Bale's superb performance make it worth watching -- though, perhaps at the lower price of a home rental.
Not long into the film, the audience is keenly aware that Bale's character, Trevor Reznik, is literally wasting away as a form of self-punishment for a yet-to-be revealed sin. The movie cuts and jumps between present day and flash backs so often that the viewer is kept off balance throughout. Though initially annoying, it adds to the disorientation that Reznik must feel through his fevered insomnia and withering form.
Anderson effectively conveys a heavy, somber mood that seeps into every corner of this movie. Nearly all color, save the tormentor's bright red car, has been washed clean from the screen. This is not an uncommon device in thrillers these days, but it plays well here thanks to Bale's excellent portrayal of the sullen, sunken Trevor Reznik.
I'll venture to say that this movie is Bale's best work. While he lost a staggering 60 pounds for the role, Bale's performance far outweighs anything he's done to date, including his beloved portrayal of the mad yuppie killer in "American Psycho."
Undoubtedly the most disturbing thing to watch in this film is Bale's skeletal figure moving about. One must believe that Anderson was hard-pressed to resist giving Bale a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every time he came on set. We've seen movie stars lose a few pounds here and there, but we expect that as part of standard Hollywood protocol. We've also seen actors gain weight for meaty roles, but who doesn't think that eating donuts at every meal for 2 months doesn't sound like a blast? For an already slim actor to lose so much weight for a role is truly disturbing.
Don't let the rib bones distract you too much, though. While vital for the portrayal of the emaciated Reznik, Bale uses his new size to convincingly transform himself into the plagued character. Through deliberate movements, stooped shoulders and languid walking, Bale shows us Reznik's crushing guilt and denial with uneasy grace.
In the end, the nature of Reznik's self-loathing may not be surprising or new to audiences. However, the visual style, unsettling music and hypnotic performance by Bale renders us unable to look away.
With its predictable twists, I doubt I'd have been satisfied paying $10 at the theater to watch this. Of course, these days, the list of movies I'd pay that much to see is growing shorter and shorter. Home rental. That's the way to go here. And make yourself a pb&j while you're at it.
Filmfodder Grade: B