The Machinist
directed by Brad Anderson
(Paramount, 2004)

You've seen this movie before.

Even if you've never actually seen it, it's already in your head. The Machinist lifts from all the right styles, borrows from all the right moods, takes its musical cues from all the right films and the performances hit all the right notes -- while visually it slides into home plate with plenty of time before the ball hits the glove. It's not Memento, but I kept half expecting Carrie Ann-Moss to show up. It's not The Sixth Sense, The Others or The Ring or anything else really -- but it does fit in with the style of each film. We open in the present and are presented with a mystery that we then work towards backwards -- not too far back, but far enough back to set the stage, have all the right clues layered into the narrative and then stumble and fall towards the final payoff which you see coming long before the end.

While not a bad thing, the final payoff is not explosive but simple. Clean. Direct. And where the plot may fail to ignite debate, visually it helps to sell the point home.

Guilt can consume souls as well as flesh, and Christian Bale (Batman Begins) takes us there. He's the hardest thing to watch in this film, and yet you can't take your eyes off him. He's too thin. Too brittle. Too close to the edge. His eyes sunken, shadows break out like sores all over his face. He's almost literally turning himself inside out over what he refuses to remember, but can't forget.

But not even his performance and dedication to the part can really pull the film up from just being a modest, often mild, mystery. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives her best as well, but she barely makes a dent in the story. She's not in it enough for her to warrent her actually being there, so I'm not sure why she was.

Director Brad Anderson provides running commentary to the DVD and, while good, it doesn't stray too far from the text or the message of the film. There are interesting asides to what was cut from the original script, and what was changed durning production. His woes of location shooting are insightful and sometimes funny (listen for and look for two real junkies shooting up in one of the shots that made it into the film).

But in the end the film is mostly icing and no cake. Bale gets top honors for selling it, and the visuals create the world around him, but the story is as thin as Bale.

- Rambles
written by T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan
published 20 August 2005

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