Machinist, The (US - BD)
Gabe takes the time to count Christian Bale's ribs in high definition video...
Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) hasn’t slept in a year. Wracked with guilt from an unknown source he has let himself waste away into a pale walking skeleton, and is a slave to his obsessive compulsive routines. During the day he works in a gothic inspired machine shop, and at night he finds minor solace in the withered arms of an affectionate prostitute named Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), or while speaking to an airport café waitress named Maria (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). Reznik’s life is put into additional turmoil when he’s a part of an industrial accident which causes a co-worker to lose an arm. Gripped with paranoia, he attempts to solve a mystery wrapped up in his lost memories.
The Machinist is a good movie that nevertheless stands out as a disappointment based on lead-up expectations. Director Brad Anderson was coming off the well received Session 9, which had built a bit of a cult following in the horror community, and Christian Bale was coming off two cult favourites of his own, American Psycho and Equilibrium (aside: why do people like Equilibrium?). The script was relatively hot, and the early word had made it to the fan community concerning Bale’s insane weight loss. Early word had the film placed the film in the same realms as Christopher Nolan’s twisty-tuvey Memento, and the trailer and poster were tantalizing. Basically the whole thing was destined to not live up to its hype, even if the hype was only recognized by a vocal minority. The Machinist is an achievement on many levels, but in the end many of us found it an ultimately forgettable endeavour.
Bale’s massive weight loss is actually a problem. He’s revolting and disturbing to the degree that it overcasts the entire film. He’s fantastic so long as his physicality isn’t the major focus (like any time he’s wearing a big enough shirt), but it becomes more of a stunt than I’m sure the actor intended. On the whole the actors somewhat overshoot the film’s overall slower approach to the thriller format. Somehow everyone involved finds a way of drawing attention to how understated they are all acting. The moments between Bale and his two ‘love interests’ Jennifer Jason Leigh and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón are genuine, but everything else seems to be grinding in a gear higher than expected (this could be attributed to the main character’s altered mental state, I suppose). Like much of the criticism I’m attempting to lob at the film, I’m stumped when it comes to a real constructive approach.
Despite these somewhat brassy performances, the whole of the film is a little too serious for its own good. The bleak nature of the script loses a lot of its power to numbing levels of straight faced treatment. The warm character moments act to refocus the tragedy of the story, but they’re a little too few and far between. Anderson gets so close to the perfect balance of haunting imagery and deliberate pacing it stings that much harder when he loses it. The look is largely original, which is more or less impossible after over one hundred years of cinema, and more hundreds of years of photography and art. Anderson’s closest relative, to my eyes, is Japanese underground director Shinya Tsukamoto, who has also been compared to David Lynch. Tsukamoto has a richer sense of humour than Anderson, but both directors have a fantastic eye for the disturbing.
For all its beauty, and pitch-perfect acting, The Machinist is still just an above average experience. By the time all the cryptic plotting and repeated imagery is unfolded the audience is left with a rather simple, and sadly common explanation (and one that kind of makes the audience feel as if they’ve been watching a very well made episode of The Twilight Zone. One assumes that perhaps there wasn’t any way of ending the film entirely satisfactorily, but I also have to admit that every time I’ve seen the film I’ve largely lost interest in the whole thing by the final act. Too much of a good thing, I’m sure. Either that or everything is a little too on-the-nose. Maybe I just don’t like Kafka or Dostoevsky?
It’s been a little while since I saw The Machinist on DVD, but I remember enough to say with much certainty that this Blu-ray is a pretty massive step up. I was expecting something much grainier based on those failing SD memories, but this print is quite clean for the Eraser Head inspired compositions I recall. The grain isn’t entirely missing, but it’s not very thick. I was also expecting a more severe contrast from the print, again, based on the DVD release (and a subsequent television viewing), but despite the deep dark noirish blacks the dark to light blends are actually pretty even, and the detail levels are pretty soft (apparently on purpose). This isn’t to say that details aren’t effective; they just aren’t cut like diamonds. The film’s colours are muted to a nearly black and white effect, with a few distinctive, digitally enhanced additions, mostly pertaining to reds, which are almost all of the exact same hue. The overall composition is usually cool besides the reds, but the muted tinting isn’t exactly blue, it’s more of a lilac (though other scenes are a bit of a warmer brown). Skin tones are slightly purpled, but mostly white with harsh black shadows. The only unintended artefact on the print is the presence of white edge-enhancement on some of the wider shot details.
As Anderson points out, the best scene to judge the sound design is the scene where Michael Ironside loses his arm to a particularly menacing piece of machinery towards the end of the first act. It’s a microcosm of all the Dolby TrueHD’s best moments, including the machinery, the music, and the dialogue. Outside of this scene, the machine room floor (if that’s what one calls it) is always a good place to absorb the track’s best, as all channels are aflutter with buzzing, grinding, and screaming gears and motors. On the whole sound design is sparingly used, and there isn’t a lot of surround sound use on the disc outside of the creepy music. Roque Baños’ score is hit or miss, but at least has the guts to take some big chances (such as seemingly inappropriate clarinets), even if it’s a little too Hitchcock era Herrmann for its own good. The music is used in a Hitchcockian manner for the most part too, usually underpinning the other sounds, but occasionally pressing hard on the track. I’m very happy, might I add that the production
Anderson’s filmography comes off as made by an intellectual auteur, but he’s a super down to earth kind of guy in commentary form. His tone is that of a nonplussed everyman. A lot of the focus is on the visuals, which is not a surprise given that it’s basically a visually effective but narratively empty feature, though that isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of positive talk concerning the script throughout the commentary as well. Anderson name drops a lot of German expressionism while talking about his visual references ( Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosfuratu), and is sure to point out that actor Michael Ironside loses limbs in three of his films.
‘Manifesting The Machinist’ (23:00, HD) is a general look at the making of the film. The speedy featurette looks at the development of the script, the difficult process of finding funding for such a dark product, casting, production, Bale’s weight loss, and the film’s all important look. Interview subjects include the director, writer, producer, John Sharian and Michael Ironside. Missing most obviously are Bale and Jason Leigh. The tone’s a little EPKish, but there are a whole bunch of spoilers, so I assume it was made for DVD, not for TV.
‘The Machinist: Hiding in Plain Sight’ (14:00 HD) concerns the film puzzle piece imagery, showing the audience where to look for them, and discussing how they came to be in production. These pieces include dialogue, the ‘hangman post-it notes’, compulsive repetitive acts, the repetition of 01:30, the use of the airport, and various driving metaphors.
‘The Machinist: Breaking the Rules’ (25:00, SD) was the making-of featurette that accompanied the original DVD release, and is more of a mini-movie than the new retrospective featurette. This featurette features a whole bunch of raw, on-set footage, but largely covers the same material as the other featuerette, just with a slightly more dramatic slant, and with some on-set interviews with Bale. It’s followed by eight deleted/alternate scenes (12:00, SD, non-anamorphic), which were also available on the DVD release. Two of the scenes feature director commentary. Things end with a trailer.
The Machinist is a better film than I remember it being looking back, so those that weren’t too fond of it the first time around might want to give it a second or third spin on Blu-ray. The film’s intense look is so important to its success that any kind of visual improvement is a tremendous plus. The new extras aren’t spectacular, but add a lick of additional support for fans planning on a double dip.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Special thanks to Troy Anderson for providing them.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 19th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Manifesting the Machinist, Hiding in Plain Sight, Breaking the Rules, Deleted Scenes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, John Sharian, Michael Ironside
Length: 101 minutes
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