The Machinist (2004), or Hitchcocked

2 12 2009

If I could find one word to describe The Machinist, it would be Hitchcock. Is it creepy? Yes. Is it thrilling? Yes. Is it a psychological horror that delves into the blurring line of reality and nightmares from the perspective of an insomniac? Yes. But all these things pale in comparison to the fact that this is SUCH a Hitchcock movie. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I posit that director Brad Anderson is the world’s most devoted Hitchcock fan. In every way I can think of, this brings to mind Hitchcock’s earlier works, such as The Rope or Suspicion, the way it builds tension with deliberate pacing, a painfully slow-building score, and camerawork that is unpredictable and far from steady. And while Anderson is no Hitchcock, if you’re going to make an homage, you might as well do it for one of the greatest directors who ever lived, because some of the greatness might just rub off on you!

Trevor Reznik can’t sleep. In fact, he hasn’t been able to sleep in a year! The effects on his health has been drastic; he is as thin as a rail and he looks dog-tired all the time. He works at a machine shop, where most people avoid him nowadays because of his gaunt figure and his tired, quiet demeanor. The only solace in his life is a prostitute named Stevie who listens to him and tries to make him feel better. One day, though, his life takes a turn for the worse when an accident around the shop costs a man his arm, and he takes the brunt of the blame from everyone. Trevor blames it on a worker who distracts him named Ivan, but nobody in the shop has ever met him or heard about him. He tries to find the man so he can clear his name, but nothing around him is making much sense. He starts having odd imagery flash into his head, he gets irrational fears about little things, Ivan appears in the periphery of his vision, threatening and terrifying, and mysterious messages come in the form of small clues to him about the identity of the man calling himself Ivan. Nothing is coming together for Trevor, it seems. Can he solve the mystery of the mysterious Ivan and try to piece his life together before it’s too late?

Christian Bale deserves some mention for the reason anyone knows anything about this movie. He dropped a LOT of weight to play insomniac Trevor Reznik, and the look adds a lot to the performance. Nearly 60 lbs of healthy weight lost to sleep deprivation seems like a lot, but I’ve never NOT slept for a year, so what do I know? Bale’s performance even recalls Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, the paranoid man with failing health but a vivid imagination. It’s a remarkable performance, and it’s what sets the tone for the whole picture. The other members of the cast are all right, decent enough, but how can you honestly stand up against Bale’s sacrifice as an actor? Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character Stevie was very likable, and it was good to see her in pictures again, after what seemed like years since I last caught her in anything. Michael Ironside sleepwalks rather lazily as Miller, the guy who loses an arm to Reznik’s run-in with Ivan, but lazy Michael Ironside is STILL Michael Ironside, so I enjoyed my salty character acting silently. And keep an eye out for John Sharian, who plays the enigmatic Ivan. He is a great up-and-coming character actor; he really brings the weird to the movie with his creepy appearances. More than once his presence sent a chill up my spine.

Brad Anderson is an interesting director. He’s not nearly as visually dynamic as Hitchcock was, but here he uses the effects of tone and framing to really put us into the frame of mind of a man who has not slept in a year. Surroundings are blurry, the colors are sickly and unhealthy, the shot is never centered, but rather hung like an old photo in the saddest corner of the room. He does a lot to bring out the tension through the Trevor’s worsening dementia. He tries to keep it together in front of people, and part of the drama is in whether or not he can. He begins to feel like everything is wrong, like everything is against him, and while we don’t know who is doing this to him, part of this deep, confusing conundrum lies with him. Anderson keeps us guessing throughout as to just who Trevor is as a character, and I think that is the greatest feat of this film.

The Machinist might not be for everybody. It’s slow, it’s not exactly action-packed, and watching Christian Bale barely live is kind of unsettling after a while. But when you really get into the mindset for a psychological horror film, this is a good pick to make. It has a lot of stylistic flourishes that recall a certain portly director, a lot of confusing puzzle-box moments, and a scene where Michael Ironside gets his damn hand ripped off in a lathe! What more could you want?!?! I give The Machinist 7 1/2 skinny minis out of 10.

Tomorrow I challenge the movie gods with Jason and the Argonauts! Until then!

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