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Spain 2004
Directed by
Brad Anderson
102 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Machinist

Synopsis: Trevor (Christian Bale), has been suffering from insomnia for a year. Physically and mentally he’s coming apart but he’s sure that he can get on top of his deteriorating condition if only he can work out its cause.

If you rate movies according to the number of laughs or good feelings you get this unremittingly lugubrious outing will be your idea of cinema hell. Written by Scott Kosar who was responsible for the script of the 2003 remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre this is a horror movie of sorts, but one of unusual graphic restraint, more concerned with the horror of mental breakdown than shrieks and splattered blood. In fact one is struck by an aesthetic sensibility rare in American film until the credits reveal that it is a Spanish production. Whilst there are points at which one will find fault with what is at core a genre film, not least of which being that Christian Bale makes a most unlikely blue-collar worker, it is a remarkably well-made film in every respect with an extraordinary performance by an scarily-emaciated Bale who shed nigh on 60 pounds of flesh to incarnate his unravelling insomniac character.

Impressively written by Kosar who cleverly weaves a disorienting web of clues and false leads to keep us off-centre in following a story which Anderson stylishly directs, it is shot in the near monochromatic blue-grey tones of depression with a beautifully-judged score by Roque Baños. Whilst the film does not achieve the existential resonance of David Cronenberg’s remarkable Spider (2002), as a study of the disoriented world of the paranoid imagination, The Machinist is a heavyweight contender, keeping us constantly on the cusp of the exhausting “is it real or it imaginary” mania essential to the genre. When Bale’s character says at the end of the film, “I just want to sleep” we know just how he feels.

The film has slipped into town quietly I suspect because the distributors are embarrassed by it – there’s no razzamattazz in a grim story about a skeletal paranoid, a cheap hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh in dependable mode) and a narrative progression from bad to worse. It will probably slip out just as quietly. Not many people have a taste for the tragic but if you do, catch this before it goes. You won’t see its like again for while.




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