Bale-A-Thon, Part 1

This is part one of a double dose of your friend and mine, Mr. Christian Bale.

First up, Bale's recent DVD release, The Machinist.

I had really wanted to catch this movie in theaters, but it only played at the Oriental around here, and I don't often get motivated enough to drive all the way over there. Interestingly enough, though, I will drive to Illinois to see Episode III. Go figure. While you might not be immediately aware of the title, this film did get a lot of publicity for Bale's physical transformation for the role of Trevor Reznik. He dropped about 63 pounds, from 183 to 120, and wanted to go down to 100, but was stopped by the film's producers. He rationed himself to one apple and one can of tuna per day.

And the result is a haunting metamorphosis unrivalled by any actor I can recall.

It's scary. This is the same guy who dominated as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and cooly overthrew the government in Equilibrium? It doesn't seem possible.

Stunts do not a good film make, though, and luckily The Machinist is not a one-trick pony. It's a haunting thriller, worthy of such a commitment from an actor. It's also one of the scariest movies I've seen since The Ring.

Bale stars as Reznik, a factory worker plagued by insomnia who may or may not be going insane. Reznik begins to interact with Ivan, a fellow worker who seems to be everything Reznik is not. Distracted by Ivan, Trevor causes a horrific industrial accident, only to find out that there is no "Ivan" on the payroll. And so begins a downward spiral of guilt and revenge, delusions and flashbacks, blackouts and murder. Is Ivan real? Or is Trevor's lack of sleep finally loosening his grip on reality?

Head to your local Hollywood Video and find out!

Seriously, though, I haven't been this impressed with a thriller in a long time. Too often they rely on star power and cliches to pull in the audience, but The Machinist went the other direction. When Bale is the biggest star, pre-Batman Begins, and the director is given free reign to create the environment, you can take what could have been Godsend or Forgotten, and instead create a film that succeeds on every level.

Bale's performance in nuanced beyond the shock value of his weight loss. Trevor's mind gradually becomes as ghostly and emaciated as his body, and Bale's descent throughout the film reflects that. He's not an actor with massive range, but this character is about as far as you can get from Bateman in American Psycho. He is a fragile, tortured shell of a man, and Bale wanders through the film in a trance-like state, replacing sleep with waking dreams. And when he is startled out of his complacency, he becomes a buzzsaw of energy, demanding answers and willing to sacrifice everything to get them. I'm not saying he deserved an Oscar nomination, but I bet if DeNiro had played this role, he would have gotten one.

Bale is supported by Jennifer Jason Leigh as a friendly prostitute, John Sharian as Ivan, and B-movie favorite Michael Ironside as Miller, the man Reznik maims. Sharian is especially memorable, infecting the screen with sleaze. His is the kind of performance that makes you want to wash your hands after seeing the movie.

Which is to say spectacular.

I also find interesting the fact that writer Scott Kosar is only credited with the Texas Chainsaw and Amityville Horror remakes, and director Brad Anderson with such direct-to-video schlock as Session 9 and Happy Accidents. That these two came together to make such a great film as The Machinist should serve as an inspiration to all the Joel Schumachers and Pitofs of the world. Just mix the right elements together, and truly believe in what you're making, and you too might turn out something worthwhile. Maybe. Pitof, you might just have to take up knitting or something. Sorry.

Is the movie flawed? Sure. It gets pretty complicated in explaining its concept, which I can't get into here without giving away the movie. It also borrows liberally from this movie. Which is ok, I guess, but I can't help but think that Kosar saw that movie, and then thought he would write it as a horror/thriller/mystery. Oh well.

So was The Machinist everything I expected? Yes, and that's a good thing. I'd put it right up there with other "dark" films like The Crow and Seven. It's that good. Do yourself a favor, and skip Meet the Fockers, Ocean's 12 or Be Cool, and pick this one up. You'll thank me later, just as I'd better receive a written thank you for this B+.

And yes, I'm using plus and minus now. Five ratings are just not enough. Sorry. I might switch over to 1-10 instead, since I think both the plus/minus and star systems are flawed. We'll see.


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