There are two kinds of film. The first kind wants to be your friend and sing you happy songs, and just entertain the living shit out of you. Then there’s the kind that to paraphrase NIN "Want to bring you down, and want to make you hurt". These films don't like you, they want to disturb you, they want to get inside your head and do some damage. In the tradition of A Clockwork Orange, Seven, Fight Club, Silence of the Lambs, Repulsion, Frailty, Suspira, 12 Monkeys, Brazil, Requim For A Dream, Memento and just about anything by David Lynch, The Machinist sets out to do just that. It's designed to be the cinematic equivilant of letting a gibbering maniac with a ball peen hammer inside your brain, it wants to leave pyschic flashburns on your soul. Unfortunately it is only partialy successful.
Right now half of you have left your computer to look for local listings, while the other half is staring at the screen screaming "Well who in the hell wants that?". Well like the above films, The Machinist is definitely not for everyone. But for those who enjoy movies that make them feel like they were smashed across the face with a 2x4 The Machinist is just what the doctor ordered.
If there is one word to describe The Machinist, it's bleak, in every sense. The story is that of Trevor Rezink, who for all intents and purposes is in a literal living hell. He hasn't slept in a year, and looks like a living skeleton. He spends his days as a souless drone in a machine shop (hence the title) and his nights with a whore (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Amazingly things actually take a turn for the worse. He's framed for an accident at work, creepy ass cryptic post-it notes appear in his home (these are in addition to the creepy ass cryptic post-it notes he himself writes), he becomes convinced his co workers are plotting his downfall, and starts to think his friendly neighborhood whore is in on it. He starts having horrid hallucinations. Then to top all that off Micheal Ironside starts menacing him, and if there is one thing we've learned from Total Recal it's when Michael Ironside is on your case you had better watch out.
The Machinist is an incredible achievement. The plot is sharp, and carries with it the rarest of things in movies nowadays, a twist that doesn't insult your intelligence. Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Ironside are all great. Oh and Bale's physical transformation? Believe the hype. Bale looks like a skeleton dipped in wax. To put it simply, Robert DeNiro's transformation in Raging Bull is no longer the bar.
The style of the movie is amazing, it's so washed out and bleak (there's that word again) that it’s nearly black and white. The direction by Brad Anderson is top notch. Anderson is best known for the cult horror film Session 9 and is such skillful director that I managed not to projectile vomit when David Caruso appeared on screen in it. Here he uses that skill to immerse you fully into Reznick's world. Now that David Fincher seems to be on an extended hiatus, he leaves behind a niche Anderson could fill. I foresee big things for him.
All of this is great, but something is gnawing at me. As I said, The Machinist's success is merely partial. The bitch of it is I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong. The film is simply less then the sum of its parts. I found myself saying "Wow Bale's transformation is amazing, but was it worth it to do that to yourself for this movie?" Now don't get me wrong, as I said I genuinely like this film, it's a smart little creeper that you'll continue to think about long after you've left the theater. But.... remember that huge list of films I started off this review with? Go back to it, and if you haven't seen them all, take the money you'd have spent on The Machinist, go to a video store and fill out the holes on your list. Good though The Machinist is, those films do what it does, only ten times better.
Still, I haven't seen a film that I felt so sure would become a cult classic since Donnie Darko. Mark my words: Angry 15 year olds with dyed black hair and Cannibal Corpse shirts shall rent this until the end of time. They will scowl and nod. Critics (paid ones anyway) are going to explode with happiness, and The Machinist will probably turn Anderson into a big time director. When that happens, I’ll still think there’s something missing, something intangible, a note not played.
Great films of this genre have made me question the very nature of my reality. The Machinist gave me a more thoughtful than usual walk to my car. There's a difference here, it's almost intangible, a tendancy to just wallow in darkness and despair rather then examine it or say anything thoughtful about it, and the film is all the poorer for it.