"If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist."
Christian Bale is nuts. No, I'm not referring to that infamous verbal tirade on the set of 'Terminator Salvation'. Filmmaking is a stressful job, and people sometimes lash out at one another over things they later regret. It happens. Nonetheless, Bale has taken Method acting to a dangerous extreme. For his role in 'The Machinist' (2004), the actor went on a crash diet and dropped down to a shocking 120 lbs. Immediately afterwards, he quickly bulked back up to 210 lbs for 'Batman Begins' (2005). As if that weren't crazy enough, he next shed 55 lbs for 'Rescue Dawn' (2006), and followed that putting the weight back on again for 'The Dark Knight' (2008). His dedication to the craft may be impressive, but such dramatic fluctuations in weight put an enormous amount of stress on a person's heart. The human body just wasn't designed to take that kind of punishment.
I mention this because the sight of Bale's skeletal frame is truly the most horrific aspect of 'The Machinist'. His body is barely recognizable as human. He looks more like a zombie than any zombie movie ever made. That is, of course, the point. In the film, Bale plays Trevor Reznik, a man who, for reasons unclear, hasn't slept in a year. He obviously hasn't eaten much either. Reznik works the night shift in a tool & die factory, and spends his days scrubbing every inch of his apartment. He compulsively washes his hands with bleach. Something is eating away at him, in a quite literal sense. What that is, even he isn't sure anymore.
Trevor's only stable relationships in life are with the whore (Jennifer Jason Leigh) he has a regular thing with, and a coffee shop waitress working the graveyard shift that he pays a visit every night. One day, a big scary bald guy named Ivan introduces himself at work. No one else seems to acknowledge his existence. Ivan's appearance portends bad things. After a gruesome accident on the factory floor costs a co-worker his arm, no one trusts Trevor's stability anymore. In turn, he becomes increasingly paranoid, convinced that everyone is out to get him, especially Ivan.
Director Brad Anderson ('Session 9', 'Transsiberian') sets an ominously dreamlike tone. A series of surreal events involving mysterious Post-It notes, a spooky carnival ride, and a disappearing body may or may not be hallucinations in Trevor's deteriorating psyche. The film is littered with symbolism and subliminal clues, aligned into a delicate puzzle structure.
The movie's script explores weighty themes such as guilt and the consequences for one's actions. The ultimate explanation to the mystery is perhaps a little too simplistic, however. Bale delivers a compelling performance, though the gimmick of his extreme weight loss tends to overshadow everything else in the film. His sallow, bony features actually distract from the story at times. Nevertheless, 'The Machinist' is a very effective and memorable chiller.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Although I haven't seen either of the import discs, from descriptions, Paramount's new Blu-ray appears to be sourced from the same master. This is a very dark movie, but the 2.35:1 image exhibits very good shadow detail. Per the director's intent, colors are bleached to set an appropriate mood. Flesh tones are pallid but undoubtedly accurate. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is very sharp and detailed.
Unfortunately, edge enhancement processing has been liberally applied. Edge ringing artifacts are visible throughout the movie. Thankfully, the electronic halos are low in amplitude and only sporadically distracting. Even though picture doesn't have much grain, it doesn't look to suffer any of the typical side effects of Digital Noise Reduction. A tremendous amount of fine object detail is on display, and the image isn't at all smeary. In one particular shot, clouds in the sky appear artificially frozen, but that could very well be just a dodgy visual effect.
Despite its edge enhancement problems, this is still a very impressive-looking disc.
The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is creepily atmospheric. Scenes in the machine shop are filled with interesting noises and ambient tones. Dialogue is clear, and sound effects are crisp. The musical score makes fascinating use of a Theremin and Bernard Hermann-style screeching strings. The track is delivered with warmth and clarity.
The surround speakers are employed infrequently. Rear channel activity is subtle but effective. Bass action is also generally mild. This may not be a slam-bang rollercoaster soundtrack, but does an excellent job setting the movie's tone.
In a big improvement over the German import Blu-ray, which had no supplemental content, Paramount's disc includes all of the bonus features from their earlier DVD edition. It may not be much in volume, but the quality of each item is better than average.
Christian Bale's physical transformation in 'The Machinist' is both mesmerizing and disturbing. The film is an eerie horror thriller sure to get under your skin, even if the whole isn't quite equal to the sum of its parts. The Blu-ray has very good picture and sound, plus a few pretty good bonus features. Recommended.