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The Machinist (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with director Brad Anderson. Commentary by Brad Anderson. Making of featurette. 8 deleted scenes. Trailers. Film notes. Region 0.

AN ASTONISHING performance from Christian Bale guarantees that The Machinist remains with you long after you've seen it - but he is both the film's biggest strength and its weakness.

Bale lost over 60 pounds to play the role of Trevor Reznik, a machine worker who becomes so haunted by past deeds that they seem to be eating away at him both physically and mentally.

Yet watching his emaciated form, especially when shirtless, threatens to become distracting to the point that viewers' attention may wander from the story itself, which is no less fascinating.

The Machinist centres around the crumbling psychological world of Reznik as he tries to understand why he is no longer able to sleep and seems to be losing weight by the bucketload.

He thinks he is on the run from somebody but can't figure out whom and becomes increasingly paranoid following an accident at work which results in a career-shattering injury to a colleague.

The only people he can trust are his prostitute girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and an airport diner waitress (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) who both appear to love him.

Yet someone is leaving clues, in the form of a hangman game, on his fridge at home, which prompts him to question his own sanity and complicity in what may or may not have happened to him.

The ensuing psychological horror is one of the most visually creepy and genuinely unsettling film-going experiences you are likely to have in a long time, thanks in no small part to Bale's tortured appearance and Brad Anderson's intense direction.

While stylishly shot, the film is seldom easy to watch and maintains an air of menace throughout that can be quite claustrophobic.

Bale, too, looks uncomfortably thin, prompting the viewer to question whether the sacrifice he made for his art was safe in the first place.

Yet his performance is so committed that you have to admire it, even if his character is difficult to identify with, or even pity.

And therein lies the film's biggest flaw - it's a consistently cold experience that could well leave viewers confused and numb.

Unlike Christopher Nolan's Memento, to which it has been favourably compared, The Machinist lacks humanity, creating a nightmarish world that offers very little in the way of hope or redemption.

This does serve to ensure that it's damn-near impossible to shake from your memory once you've inhabited its world, but the feeling you get when leaving is one of unease and queasiness.

The film is therefore both impressive and discomforting, much like Bale's performance, making it one of the more distinctive horror films of recent years.

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