This kind of thing just cannot be good for you.
Good for Christian Bale, that is. Losing fifty or sixty pounds to play the emaciated “Machinist”, packing on forty pounds to play Dick Cheney, bulking up with massive exercise to be Batman….it’s only flesh and blood, Bale, the body can only take so much. At some point, I’d think these swings in body type have to cost some kind of long term toll.
There’s dedication to the role, and then there’s self-abuse. Dustin Hoffman, another Method actor, went for days without sleeping or bathing to prepare himself for a role. Sir Laurence Olivier asked him, “Why not just “act”, dear boy? It’s ever so much less trouble.”
Anyway, Christian Bale sure did get scary thin to play Trevor Reznik, the eponymous machinist. Concentration camp thin. Bataan Death March thin. If I’d been the company insuring the production of “The Machinist”, I’d have been worrying and asking higher premiums. So scary thin that it’s hard to say if he is just a great actor, of if the skeletal boniness is carrying the performance.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is inexplicably hot for Skeletor here, too. As a hooker with a heart of gold, or maybe a heart of brass, she’s OK but would even a HwaHoG not be skeeved by a walking anatomy lesson? She does abused and amused tolerance well enough, but it’s not much of a role, really. Even less so, the other woman in Trevor’s life, the waitress at the airport diner. Again, what a woman would see in a guy who looks like the Crypt Keeper is hard to register, and would you leave your child in the care of a Walking Dead? Doubtful.
I always like seeing Michael Ironside, though. He lends that little air of simmering to even a small part like this one. Of course, none of the supporting players can compete with Bale’s exposed ribcage and knobbly spine. So, on to the
SPOILER ALERT. Read no farther to avoid spoilage….
Hasn’t this concept been covered better in the much more amusing “Fight Club”? I was trying to figure out what Trevor Reznik is an anagram for, but I kept getting sidetracked by Tyler Durden. It’s pretty much the same deal, except that neither Brad Pitt nor Edward Norton bothered to diet themselves down to their bones and gristle. I don’t really see why Christian Bale felt it necessary to do the role as an animated skeleton. To show desperation and insomnia and paranoia, I guess, but I’ve known a few insomniacs, fewer desperate types, and maybe one true paranoid. None of them looked as severe as Christian Bale in “The Machinist”.
Was it really necessary for Bale to drop fifty pounds? Or was he showing off? “Look what I’m willing to do for my art!” Almost seems more like a stunt than dedication to the Method. I’d have been perfectly able to see that Trevor Reznik was in bad shape with just a sallow face, baggy eyes and maybe the shakes. All of which can be done with makeup and acting and keeping his shirt on. Instead of endangering one’s health. Was this kind of emaciation that necessary to the story?
Still, it’s an interesting movie, it has a satisfactory ending, and nobody can doubt Bale’s commitment to the role. There’re some good bits of ordinary acting by the rest of the cast, the ultra-creepy “funhouse” was a nice touch, and the atmosphere of paranoid suspense was good; the color-drained, high contrast lighting was perfect for the film, the score a little too intrusive. When you’ve got a refrigerator seeping blood, you don’t really need an orchestral sting. Speaking of score, was that a real Theremin? Sure sounded like a Theremin. I suppose it was just synthesizer, but I am a sucker for the real electronic deal.
And while I’m picking nits, I have actually worked in industrial settings with large and potentially hazardous machines. OSHA and plant managers are very strict about “Lock-Out, Tag-Out” when doing maintenance. That is, if you’re sticking your arm into a lathe or printing press, you have to turn off the power and put an actual physical lock on the circuit breaker or lever or whatever activates the machine, so it can’t be accidentally leaned on, like poor Trevor does. And along with the lock, a big red tag that tells anybody wandering by not to mess with it, and who has the key for the lock. Which is you, if you’re reaching inside your lathe. You lock it out, you tag your lock, and then you do something foolish. It’s a pain and people complain about it, but you still have to do it. I guess The Machinist’s shop is a lot more sloppy; it’s dirty, messy and badly lit, all things you do not want to see in a well-run plant.
Over Reknit! The best anagram I’ve come up with.