Director: Brad Anderson
Starring: Christian Bale
In an era of mind-bending, dark-turn dramas, The Machinist holds its own, but perhaps fails to make a name for itself within its own genre. Memento and Fight Club, even American Psycho and Donnie Darko, we went through a phase around 2000 when what we wanted was a tortured male lead who wasn’t really sure what was real, who couldn’t even understand his own insanity; we just thought that was pretty cool. Looking back, was it? Who knows, it’s hard to judge these films fairly, because they had such an impact on us then that they’ll stay with us forever, whether or not they were as awesome as we made them out to be. Add The Machinist to that list, a crazy-cool mental meltdown that we entrusted to an incredible actor and let run wild, with enjoyment coming by the end because we wished it into existence.
Trevor Reznik hasn’t slept in a year, only dozing off in random settings to be awoken again and set back on the destruction path he seems to be sleepwalking down. Something happened a year ago that he’s not quite ready to face, and so he’s letting his life spiral out of control, ultimately culminating in an accident at work that finally snaps the last cord he had tied to reality. Now he’s not sure what’s actually happening and what he might be dreaming up, all while walking through each day in a daze that makes zero sense. As the pieces coalesce, we grow closer to the truth, and begin to understand why a breakdown might be a form of protection from the thing we can’t face awake.
These partially-lunatic dreamscape flicks might be a dime a dozen, but when led by someone as talented as Bale, they can still have a heavy impact. Sure, the plot might be a little predictable once you figure out what the hell is going on, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing; I’m not sure that tying up all the loose ends at the end and explaining things to the audiences is truly a bad thing. Had the film gone the other way, had it been about pure madness in a Pi sort of way, I don’t think I would have liked it as much, though I may have given the director a little more credit. As it was, Anderson didn’t do much, and he wouldn’t go on to do much, he simply laid a weird tale as Bale’s feet and let him do his thing. Is that a cop out or a genius move? Watch and decide I guess, but I err on the side of smart, because Christian Bale is a generational talent, and that is definitely on display here in this iconic role. He’s great, Jennifer Jason Leigh is surprisingly good, and the film works even when sticking to the script and refusing to veer too far away from the standard that was already set and we already showed we loved.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆