Blu-ray
Worth Importing
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth Importing

The Machinist (German Import)

Street Date:
May 25th, 2008
Reviewed by:
High-Def Digest staff
Review Date: 1
August 11th, 2008
Movie Release Year:
2004
Studio:
EMS
Length:
101 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
Germany

Editor's Notes

Editor's Note - We have previously reviewed the HD DVD Japanese Import edition of 'The Machinist.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

There are performers so committed to their craft that they're willing to go to any length to embody their characters. Robert De Niro gained a staggering sixty pounds during the 'Raging Bull' shoot to convert Jake LaMotta from a young, chiseled boxer to a careless has-been. Charlize Theron put on thirty pounds and masked her beauty behind layers of riddled prosthetics to become Aileen Wuornos in 'Monster.' And who could forget Edward Norton's turn as the swastika-branded neo-Nazi in 'American History X' -- a make-or-break career gamble that required thirty pounds of extra muscle, diatribes of racist rhetoric, and a daily regimen of offensive tattoos.

Yet none of those transformations was as dangerous or effective as the one Christian Bale endured to become a mentally unstable insomniac in 'The Machinist.' In six months time, Bale shed a mind-blowing sixty-three pounds to literally become a malnourished, skeletal wisp of a man. Sound like a cheap gimmick to give a struggling film an edge? Believe me, it's not. 'The Machinist' hinges on Bale's physical sacrifice, allowing the brilliant actor to deliver a far more disturbing look into his character's psyche than would have been possible otherwise.

'The Machinist' tells the twisted tale of Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale), an industrial worker who hasn't slept in over a year. His chronic insomnia has left his body emaciated, his co-workers suspicious, and his personal life in shambles. Shortly after he's blamed for a machinery accident that claims the arm of a co-worker (Michael Ironside), Reznik begins having hallucinations, finding bizarre Post-it notes on his refrigerator, and questioning his sanity. He searches for answers anywhere they can might found -- in the arms of a prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the love of a kind waitress (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), or the friendship of her son, Nicholas (Matthew Romero). As his hallucinations become more intense, Reznik desperately struggles to uncover the source of his mental breakdown and undo its damage before he winds up dead.

Director Brad Anderson ('Session 9,' 'Happy Accidents') turns Reznik's extraordinary quest into an unsettling psychodrama that defies genre conventions. Anderson doesn't portray Reznik as a hero of any sort -- he seems to tell us that the character deserves pity, but little more. I instinctively understood that Anderson didn't necessarily want me to like or root for Reznik. If anything, the director worked to ensure that I could never let go and entirely trust any of the characters in the film. By the time the end credits rolled around, I was too caught up in the mystery to scrutinize the implications of Reznik's revelations. Anderson essentially eliminates the natural desire to bond with his main character, subverting viewer expectations and eliciting emotions we don't often feel when watching a film: insecurity and doubt.

It's Christian Bale's body-morphing turn as Reznik that gives the film its real resonance. I couldn't get over the effect the actor's appearance had in making every scene uncomfortable and disquieting. Since I'm familiar with Bale's usual look, his fragile frame in 'The Machinist' injects a feeling of dread into otherwise run of the mill interactions. His physical appearance allows Anderson to tell the story without getting hung up on Reznik's exact condition or any lengthy expositional information. Factor in the actor's weak gestures, sunken eyes, and defeated demeanor, and you have a character that instantly grabs your attention from the moment he steps on screen. His hallucinations and waking nightmares quickly emerge as a secondary threat when compared to Reznik's own failing health.

Is the flick perfect? Not quite. Unfortunately, it's biggest flaw lies in its final revelation. Unlike more intriguing twisters from directors like David Lynch, 'The Machinist' is all too eager to wrap its symbols, metaphors, and explanations into a succinct package that feels a bit too conclusive. For all of the film's hallucinogenic stylings and mysteries, Reznik's condition can be traced back to an event that doesn't feel as connected to his breakdown as the story would suggest. The ending is still satisfying and thankfully relies on several, well paced twists and turns in the story, rather than one big "gotcha" moment.

'The Machinist' is a dark and brooding cinematic head-trip that features a gut-wrenching performance from Christian Bale. The film's strong script, arresting cinematography, and unsettling tone match his efforts scene for scene, creating something wholly unique. Bale's extreme commitment to his role elevates the film to another level -- I doubt it would feel nearly as significant without him.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

This German BD import of 'The Machinist' looks just as stunning as the Japanese HD DVD release I reviewed in March. However, the Blu-ray edition looks a bit better in my opinion since its contrast is more natural, allowing for slightly greater visibility in the shadows. Mind you, the difference isn't significant enough to warrant a higher score, but is definitely worth mentioning.

This Blu-ray import's 1080p/VC-1 transfer is incredibly sharp, intricately detailed, and manages to create a convincing illusion of depth matched only by the best discs on the market. Considering how bleached and colorless the film's palette happens to be, it's a wonder that the film can look so vibrant. Packed with inky blacks, harsh blues, and natural (albeit pale) fleshtones, the transfer vaults past the heavily-compressed domestic DVD and outclasses its SD counterpart's drab picture. Detail is exceptional, revealing every last element of the machine shop and providing the image with amazing three-dimensionality. The shadows are intentionally overpowering, but textures on skin, hair, clothing, and metal still have a distinct pop that pushes this import to the head of the pack.

The only thing that detracts from the experience is still a fair amount of edge enhancement. While issues like artifacting, source noise, and posterization are nowhere to be found, the post-processing team seems to have gone a bit overboard in their efforts to boost the clarity of the image. The EE certainly doesn't ruin the presentation (I've seen far more intrusive halos), but it does swat the picture away from perfection. Regardless, 'The Machinist' import offers fans an exquisite presentation that's worth the investment.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The German audio package, on the other hand, deserves a bump since it delivers a fantasticly faithful DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that outperforms the 640kbps Japanese DD+ mix. It boasts deeper bass, more intricate ambience, and a sharper reproduction of the film's theatrical presentation.

Digging through the disc, I also encountered crisp, well prioritized dialogue, strong and weighty dynamics, and all-encompassing rear surround support. Low-end LFE pulses drive the equipment in Reznik's shop, allowing the steady whump whump of the factory's machinery belts to sound stable and realistic. Don't be fooled by the low key nature of the setup, 'The Machinist' is a psychological thriller that uses aggressive sound design to amp up the tension. As it stands, the soundfield is open and involving from beginning to end, reinforcing the impressive fidelity of the mix. Gone are the stocky pans I noticed in the Japanese import, but directionality still isn't as precise as I'd prefer (the soundscape drops intense elements in multiple channels rather than where they necessarily belong). Still, 'The Machinist' sounds as good as I imagine it ever will, making this German BD a worthwhile addition to any importer's collection.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

While the domestic DVD and the HD DVD import include a decent variety of material, including a director's commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes, this German import doesn't offer fans any supplemental material.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Nothing.

Final Thoughts

'The Machinist' is a fascinating film that features one of the most disturbing performances I've seen in recent memory. While director Brad Anderson's head-trip doesn't strike the bizarre heights of a David Lynch masterpiece, it still has a lot to offer fans of psychological thrillers. This German Blu-ray import is worth the investment as well. With no domestic release date on the horizon, this is a great way to experience 'The Machinist' with a stunning video transfer and an excellent DTS HD Master Audio track. It doesn't include any supplemental features, but it destroys its standard definition counterpart in every other way. If you don't mind shelling out a few extra bucks, this import BD will make a great addition to your high-def library.

Thanks to Alex Wyles for providing this import disc for review!

Technical Specs

  • BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
  • German DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • German Subtitles

Supplements

  • None

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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