Reviews

The Machinist

4

Robert De Niro piled on 60lbs for Raging Bull and Oscar "oohed". Hilary Swank strapped down her breasts and lived like a bloke for Boys Don't Cry and Oscar "aahed. Christian Bale, meanwhile, restricted himself to a can-of-tuna-and-an-apple-a-day diet, lost 63lbs for The Machinist and Oscar went "and...?" Nauseous, edgy and creepy - the Batman-to-be's utter immersion into the role of Trevor Reznik may be difficult to watch, but it is also a landmark, and criminally overlooked, piece of acting.

We meet Reznik at his lowest ebb. Sleepwalking through his job as the eponymous machinist at a factoryand looking like Gary Neville after decades on the Atkins, he tells his hooker confidante (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that he "hasn't slept for a year". He is so skeletally thin that his spine protrudes like the armour on a stegosaurus' back as he stumbles in a zombie-like delusion through his half-life, his existence a daze and his condition a mystery. He's tormented and tortured when alone, mocked and then loathed when with colleagues, but his charm, confidence and normality when in the company of waitress Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) hints at a happier past.

As with Fight Club and Memento, much of Brad Anderson's film works far more effectively on a (recommended) second viewing. Motifs (1.30, cooling tower, traffic intersection, bloody fridge) that crop up like recurring dreams and seem random or perhaps inconsequential at first are, once the story's unravelled, revealed to be exquisitely and tantalisingly placed signposts pointing towards an ending that, when it arrives, is a relief for Reznik and viewer alike. Finally, we are allowed to sleep...

The Machinist though, belongs to Bale. His appearance is not a gimmick, nor an attempt to appear on Record Breakers. His weight is the film's essence - it is the question that needs answering. Long languishing frames of a flaked-out Bale in a bleached-out world beg just one, painful question: what on Earth has driven him to this state?

Perplexed by Method acting, Sir Laurence Olivier famously once asked Dustin Hoffman, "Why not try acting?" Well, Larry, because sometimes just acting isn't enough...

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