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The Machinist is really pretty good. But I have a hard time recommending it strongly because it’s such a copycat of recent nouveau films noirs. (Yes, I’m trying to become famous by coining a new term.)

My newly named genre includes films like The Sixth Sense, Memento, Fight Club, Insomnia, and Suture — dark films with murderous hearts, presented with a twist, and often questioning the nature of reality or identity.

But in a genre that relies heavily on originality, The Machinist feels a little too derivative to get enthusiastic support.

Keep Your Arms Inside the Ride

Bale's ghostly figure haunts this copycat movie
Bale’s ghostly figure haunts this copycat movie

Christian Bale lost 60 pounds to play Trevor Reznick, a swing-shift machinist at some sort of metalworking plant. He hasn’t slept in a year, he says. He survives on coffee and pie — about one bite per day — and work.

A coworker loses part of an arm in one of the machines while Reznick was supposed to be helping him. Reznick was distracted by Ivan (John Sharian), one of the new guys, and the machine safeties failed. And although the safeties should have worked, Reznick’s coworkers blame him. He seeks out the guy who distracted him — a guy nobody else seems to recall.

In a parallel story, Trevor starts a tentative relationship with the waitress at the airport bar where he gets his late-night coffee and pie. Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) has a son of about 11, whom Trevor takes on the “Route 666” ride at the carnival. The cheesy ride becomes more and more disturbing, as though designed to personally haunt Trevor (and reveal to us his mysterious past), ending with the boy convulsing in an epileptic fit. “I should have told you,” says Marie to our nervewracked protagonist. Just what he needed.

Been Down That Road Before

The movie has the requisite “twist” ending, although it’s not so much a twist as a revelation, like a murder mystery. I won’t say more, except to say that it satisfied me about as much as the rest of the film did: good, but not great.

The trouble is that The Machinist feels like a frankenstein of other films. Insomnia lends Trevor his sleeplessness. The Sixth Sense and Fight Club provide the mysterious man at work that only Trevor remembers. Memento gives the film its dark palette and foggy ending.

Bale’s amazing, sunken, skeletal physique will keep your eyes glued to the screen, and it probably does make The Machinist better than it would have been otherwise. But an amazing sacrifice by an actor is no substitute and no fix for an average screenplay.

That’s not to say that the screenplay is bad. It’s just that it’s been done, and it doesn’t really offer much to say on the human condition that hasn’t been said. Grief, shame, and regret darken and drive the film, but a better meditation on the subject is Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, ... and Spring.

The Machinist is worth a look for Bale’s amazing transformation. And it’s not a bad little movie. But it’s not the must-see sleeper hit that it hoped it would be. As for my new genre, The Machinist is only a copy, and not part of the blueprint.