DVD Review: The Machinist

Despite critical praise and a pesky Internet following, Christian Bale lurks perennially “on the verge” of mega-stardom.

His spotty career is pock-marked with weighty performances; his masochist serial killer Patrick Bateman is one of the most overlooked screen performances in history.

The Welshman will don the cape this summer in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins”; casting that evoked praise and relief from fans who swore off the deeply held franchise after Joel Schumacher systematically destroyed it.

About the time Bale restores the hopes of comic book loyalists, his little-seen film “The Machinist” will premiere on DVD. Not surprisingly, his performance has generated early Oscar buzz—but will fickle Hollywood Bale-out?

In a state of near-collapse, Bale gives one of the best performances of his career in “The Machinist,” an aesthetically-charged psychological thriller. Bale plays Trevor Reznik, an industrial worker who has not slept in a year. His 63-pound weight loss is bleakly cadaverous-Trevor is a sunken-eyed apparition of a human being; jutting bones, emaciated face, and unruly, gangly limbs near atrophy.

It is an unsettling transformation worthy of more praise heaped on Robert DeNiro for “Raging Bull” or Charlize Theron in “Monster” because it feels less like a gimmick. Bale artfully creates an extension of yet another expertly drawn character sure to be over-looked.

Right away we realize that Trevor is guilty of something when in the first scene, he dumps a body. His guilt builds and unfolds in tense, suspicious flashbacks. His insomnia and alarming appearance provoke suspect from his factory bosses and sympathies from a coffee shop waitress (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) and a kindly, cranky prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Trevor spends a wincing year in torment; chasing a mysterious, balding man who breaks into his apartment, taunting him with cryptic Post-it notes.

There are clues to the mystery throughout the film, but they are more decorative then substantially important. In Reznik’s clammy apartment, a copy of Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” is conveniently stationed bedside. The ponderous novel about a morally perfect social outcast is a spoon-fed metaphor. It is an interesting juxtaposition but unnecessary in a film this interesting.

“The Machinist” is an obvious homage to Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor. The film even bears a likeness to the band’s grimy, experimental videos of the 1990’s. While fantastic looking; “The Machinist” carries little metaphorical weight and is almost narrow next to worthier films like “Donnie Darko.” The film’s tidy explanation belies a script more skeletal than Bale. Still, the film is moody, dingy noir; engaging and terse-a crafty Memento-lite. It is ingeniously designed, precisely edited, and intriguing enough to keep the fickle attention of genre loyalists satisfied.

Director Brad Anderson of “Session 9” fame builds appropriate, if predictable, tension and uses the camera for some truly inventive cinema. But his efforts are hindered by Scott Kosar’s meandering script. (Kosar also penned the remakes of the “The Amityville Horror” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”) Despite a few mis-steps, Christian Bale’s nervy, layered performance resuscitates the weaker moments of “The Machinist” and holds the film together.

The Machinist premieres on DVD June 6, 2005

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