Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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The Machinist is a dark psychological thriller that would’ve made Hitch proud.

The Skinny

Bale is catapulted to the indie-movie A-list
Bale is catapulted to the indie-movie A-list

The biggest visual shock in The Machinist is Christian Bale himself. In a move that takes “dedication to the craft” to a whole new level, Bale shed more than 60 pounds, a full third of his body weight, to tackle the role of Trevor Reznik. It’s jaw-dropping to see him do a bizarre, Elephant Man-like contortion, shirtless in a drab, dim apartment shortly after the movie starts.

But for his very next onscreen role, Bale turned right around, gained back the weight — and then some — for his take on Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. He even went too far and gained too much weight, with friends chiding him as “Fatman.”

Yikes. What’s on screen here isn’t a digitized effect like Brad Pitt in the majority of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Bale’s is a striking performance that sent him to the top of the indie film actors A-list.

And, in the case of The Machinist, Bale is supported by a pitch-perfect cast from top to bottom. There’s his prostitute love interest, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Synecdoche, New York) and a co-worker named Miller (Michael Ironside, Terminator Salvation) who suffers his own tragic accident. And there’s also Ivan (John Sharian, Saving Private Ryan), a creepy, Brando-like enigma who eggs on poor Trevor.

The Jolt

What’s Trevor’s problem? Why is he so skinny? Well, he’s haunted; he hasn’t slept in a year and he consumes more java than grub. He’s one troubled soul who spends his evenings cleaning his bathroom floor with bleach and a toothbrush.

As director Brad Anderson ( Transsiberian) describes it, they were shooting for something like the last movie Hitchcock never made. Take that with a grain of salt and the ambitious whimsy with which it was said, and he isn’t all that far off. Actually, this isn’t just a thriller. It’s a morality play.

The score by Roque Banos (The Oxford Murders), while at times a little theremin-heavy, intentionally evokes that Hitchcockian sensibility and it’s equally matched by some sly storytelling and skillful camera maneuvering.

The Machinist was written by Scott Kosar ( The Amityville Horror 2005 remake) while he was attending UCLA; that little revelation goes a long way to explain the high-minded literary sources of inspiration (Kafka, Dostoevsky) that led to the film requiring financing from Spain because it was too darn dark and artsy for American backing.

Blu-ray Extras

All of the supplements from the original DVD release are on board here. The video supplements have been ported over in their original standard definition (1.33:1) format.

Director Brad Anderson’s audio commentary is fairly dry in tone, but it’s informative and unusually self-critical. He’s totally open to calling out what he sees as far-fetched or the music queue that he doesn’t like. That alone is a refreshing change of pace from so many commentaries that are merely delivery vehicles for butt loads of platitudes. But Anderson also shares a lot of insight into the thought processes and the challenges of filming in Spain a movie originally scripted as taking place in California.

The Machinist: Breaking the Rules (25 minutes) is a very good behind-the scenes documentary that includes comments from Bale and others about the actor’s extraordinary weight. Try to get past the extensive typos in the subtitles (used to translate the Spanish producers) and stay focused on the content itself.

There’s also a fairly strong collection of eight deleted scenes (12 minutes) that show what might’ve been. Two of particular note, “Trevor Tries to Skip Town” and “Trevor Confronts Mother at Cemetery,” are definitely worth a look. Those two also include an optional commentary from Anderson which explains why they weren’t used in the final cut.

Finally, the theatrical trailer makes an encore appearance on Blu-ray (once again, it’s in standard definition, along with the other DVD ports).

Blu-ray Exclusives

Hot on the heels of Paramount’s ho-hum high-def treatment of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s surprising the game’s been stepped up and there are actually two really good, albeit a little redundant, new high-def featurettes.

Manifesting the Machinist (23 minutes) is essentially a “do over” of Breaking the Rules, although this new documentary does not include any interview footage with Bale. It does, however, offer some more insight into the story’s origins and interesting anecdotes about Bale while on the set.

The Machinist: Hiding in Plain Sight (14 minutes) is a nifty little segment that details the story’s use of symbolism and divulges some of the bits of classic literature that served as inspiration. It’s a great analysis of the minutiae and provides food for thought while revisiting the movie.

Picture and Sound

The picture (2.35:1) is quite well done, in spite of some edge enhancement that is glaringly obvious in spots. On the bright side, the more often than not the image offers loads of detail (the hairs on Bale’s bony chest, for example) and the black level is perfect, especially given the amount of deep, dark blackness used in the movie.

The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD is good, given the “arthouse” origins of the soundtrack. It’s mainly focused on the front channels with little in the way of surround sound design, which is a shame since the factory and funhouse scenes in particular would’ve benefited from more surround effects.

The other audio options are French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English (and English SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

How to Use This Disc

For the morbidly curious, check out The Machinist: Breaking the Rules to see Bale and others comment on his weight loss. Then watch the movie. As a followup, watch The Machinist: Hiding in Plain Sight.