Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Movie Review: "The Machinist"

Or: "When The Atkins Diet Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong"

"The Machinist" is, in my opinion, the perfect example of how sometimes, it all comes down to the payoff.

If I had to categorize the movie in terms of its genre, I'd probably go with "psychological mystery"... but this isn't a typical mystery where you're given clues along the way, and have the tools to at least hazard guesses.

Rather, "The Machinist" is the OTHER kind of mystery - the kind that gives you absolutely nothing to work with, the kind where nothing is what it appears to be.

I'll admit, it's a paradigm that can really stretch your patience - because you effectively spend an hour and a half wondering what the hell is going on, and the answer pops up in the last five minutes of the movie. That kind of storytelling is always a big risk, because if that crucial revelation doesn't go over, if it doesn't fit, then the whole thing bombs.

"The Machinist" pulls it off. It's not overly complex - when the mystery is unraveled, everything clicks into place without necessitating a second or third viewing. It's straightforward in that respect... but it's also very difficult to predict, because the film constantly avoids giving you anything concrete. Without spoiling, I'd like to call attention to the scene where Stevie the prostitute insists the man in the picture is Trevor, our protagonist. It is, without question, a very conscious decision on both the writer's and the director's part that we never see the picture after she says this - we don't know if she's lying or if she's telling the truth, and what either of those possibilities mean.

The movie's plot isn't particularly hard to follow: the focus is on Trevor Reznik, a blue-collar worker who hasn't slept in a year and, as a result, has become an emaciated skeleton. After an accident at his workplace, he suddenly finds himself at the center of some undefinable plot, wrestling with phantasms who may or may not exist. Fellow ladies, a word of warning: if you're watching this movie because you want to see Christian Bale with his shirt off, for God's sake, run hard and run fast. Because he looks like Calista Flockhart after liposuction. Seriously, it's disturbing. ENORMOUS props to Bale for applying a physical training regimen that wasted half his body away... too few actors have that kind of dedication these days. And, of course, he plays his role well - bewildered, dazed, vulnerable, and spiraling ever so slowly into paranoia. But ye gods, it's disturbing.

I definitely recommend "The Machinist" to anyone looking for a good mystery. It's a movie that, in the final analysis, rewards the viewer's patience.