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El Maquinista (2004)

The Machinist

A little goes a long way...

Directed by:

Brad Anderson

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 102 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: Spain

In one way or another, all actors accommodate aspects of themselves to the parts that they play, but their commitment to a rôle is taken to another level if they show a willingness to transform themselves physically for a part. Robert De Niro set the standard when he packed on 60 pounds for the part of the aging Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Raging Bull’ (1980), only to have his record broken by Vincent D’Onofrio, who gained a whopping 70 pounds for the role of Private Lawrence in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987). More recently, Renée Zellweger acquired an extra 25 pounds for the cellulite-afflicted heroine of Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and one-time model Charlize Theron added 30 pounds to her résumé to become the living embodiment of white-trash serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003). Yet as anyone on a diet will attest, it is far easier to gain weight than to lose it – which is what makes Christian Bale’s extraordinary contribution to ‘The Machinist’ stand alone in the records of insane (but effective) things that actors will do in the service of their craft.

Bale plays Trevor Reznick, a hollow shell of a man who has almost literally been eaten away by the ravages of guilt, paranoia, and chronic insomnia – and in preparation for the part, the already slim Bale simply stopped eating, taking off an astonishing 63 pounds. Bale’s on-screen presence (or should that be absence) serves as a constant, nagging reminder to the viewer of something unspeakable lurking beneath the surface, for one only needs to look at his near-skeletal frame to know that things are not quite right with Trevor – if not to say with Bale himself, who seriously endangered his health for the part. Still, filmgoers should be grateful, for it is a unique piece of body horror, placing unhinged neurosis at the very centre of a film full of disorienting unease.

Gaunt, haunted Trevor sleepwalks through his job as a tool operator, dividing his nocturnal hours between tart-with-a-heart Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and single mother Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) who is his regular waitress at an airport café. Shortly after bald, cocky Ivan (John Sharian) introduces himself to the machinist, he distracts Trevor’s attention at work, causing his colleague Miller (Michael Ironside) to lose his arm in an industrial accident. Someone starts leaving menacing notes on the refrigerator in Trevor’s apartment, and he is soon losing his other co-workers’ trust, his job, and his grip on reality. Convinced that Ivan is the focus of a growing conspiracy against him, Trevor sets about tracking the man down – but his investigation leads him, like some latter-day Oedipus, down some uncomfortable roads to the truth.

Anyone who has seen his previous, not entirely dissimilar ‘Session 9’ (also about a working man haunted by a secret) will be familiar with director Brad Anderson’s assured juggling of mystery, tension and psychological breakdown – but nothing can quite prepare you for the intense physicality of Bale’s central performance.

It's Got: A richly nuanced screenplay by Scott Kosar (who has also scripted the remakes of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’) that reveals far more than it seems to; cinematography by Xavi Gimenez that is stunningly bleak and disorienting; and Christian Bale proving once again, as he did in ‘American Psycho’, that he is an actor who just eats up difficult roles (though in this case not literally).

It Needs: A hearty dinner followed by a good long sleep.

Alternatives:

'American Psycho', 'Angel Heart', 'Barton Fink', 'Memento', 'Repulsion', 'Session 9', Spider, The Forgotten

Summary

Christian Bale gives his best by giving less in this nightmare tale of a machinist who is one tool short of the full set.

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