The Machinist

2004, Movie, R, 102 mins

Review

MACHINIST, THE
starstarstarstar
Ultimately, there's less than meets the eye to Brad Anderson and Scott Kosar's Twilight Zone variation on SPIDER (2002), David Cronenberg's icy adaptation of Patrick McGrath's slippery novel of mental disintegration. But the film's persuasively doom-haunted atmosphere and star Christian Bale's astonishing transformation into an emaciated walking skeleton — he lost nearly a third of his normal body weight before starting the film — are hypnotic, in a roadkill, rubbernecking sort of way. Afflicted by insomnia and shedding weight daily, machine operator Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is gradually drifting into a murky, waking-dream state in which everything simultaneously seems hazily unreal and too vividly intense to bear. Trent's eyes are retreating back into their sunken sockets and his clothes hang from his gaunt frame. "If you were any thinner, you'd disappear," he's told more than once, just in case you failed to mark those words the first time. He's haunted by paranoid suspicions that may not be entirely baseless — someone, after all, is leaving neatly pencilled games of Hangman around Trent's gloomy apartment, teasing him to fill in the blanks — _ _ _ _ E R — before the noose tightens around the forlorn little stick-figure's scrawny neck. Trent's nosy landlady, Mrs. Shrike (Anna Massey), thinks he's losing his grip, while lightly battered hooker Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) sees a fixer-upper worthy of her heart of gold. Tormented by creepy new colleague Ivan (John Sharian) and shunned by the rest of his coworkers after an accident that costs drill-press operator Miller (Canadian exploitation stalwart Michael Ironside) his arm, Trent grows increasingly introverted. Isolated at work and too wired to stay home, he finds refuge at an all-night airport diner, drinking coffee and not eating the pie sweet-natured waitress Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) serves up with a side of soothing conversation. But Trent's jittery obsessions have sent poisonous tendrils of mistrust into every corner of his ever-diminishing world, and Marie's sunny optimism can't keep his demons at bay. The film's middle third is a repetitive slog, but Anderson, cinematographer Xavi Gimenez and composer Roque Banos whip up a fog of atmosphere that goes a long way toward obscuring the material's fundamental slenderness. Anderson is a master of detail, from the film's ubiquitous fish motif to the elaborate carnival set piece that unfolds inside the claustrophobic confines of a spook-house ride called "Route 666." The punch line isn't really good enough to justify Bale's queasy-making physical transformation but really — what could? leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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