You can add Christian Bale to the list of attractive actors who wreak havoc on their beautiful bodies in order to prove themselves as serious thespians. If you are an admirer of Bale’s buff physique, there is quite a shock in store when you see him in the English-language Spanish production “The Machinist.”
The Welsh actor reportedly shed 60 pounds to play the title role of a drill shop operator who suffers from severe insomnia and increasing paranoia. The result of this acute weight loss is disturbing to watch, as the emaciated Bale literally presents himself as a skin-and-bones fragment of his studly self. Some obvious make-up and lighting effects clearly accentuates his ghastly appearance, but the wreckage he brought upon his body is primarily of his own doing.
The sad thing is, however, it wasn’t worth the effort. “The Machinist” is a fairly standard issue psychological thriller packed with cheap shocks. Bale’s character of Trevor Reznik is a man who seems to be on a self-destructive course. Increasingly self-isolated from his co-workers by his creepy behavior, the workplace rift is further aggravated when he causes an industrial accident resulting in a co-worker losing an arm. Reznik’s claim for the accident was that he was distracted by a mysterious bald man who supposedly works elsewhere in the machine shop (John Sharian), but no one at his job ever saw that man before. When he nearly loses his own arm through lathe control carelessness, he loses his job.
At home, Reznik finds post-it notes mysteriously appearing on his refrigerator, taunting him with a game of Hangman. Later on, the refrigerator begins to drip blood. Reznik finds some degree of escape with two women who don’t seem too perturbed by his strange appearance or actions: the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who gamely offers a brief topless pose) and the waitress at an airport diner which Reznik curiously insists on visiting each evening after midnight (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, who stays fully dressed).
For a while, the film is compelling enough to make you wonder where it will lead. Unfortunately, the ultimate payoff for all of this hullabaloo is a major letdown — no spoilers here, just a warning that you will be underwhelmed by the explanation.
Even at full weight, Bale has always been something of a lightweight screen presence. In this role, his acting is limited to either popping his eyes in horror or squinting in amazement. Since he is in virtually every scene of the film, there is no way to get around the limits of his acting. Still, the fact that he would drastically sacrifice his appearance for this role should earn him some modicum of respect (and probably an award nomination or two).
“The Machinist” was directed by Brad Anderson, who made a minor splash in the mid-1990s with the indie flicks “The Darien Gap” and “Next Stop Wonderland,” but who never quite matched the promise of those features. This is his first theatrical release since the 2001 thriller Session 9, another exercise in psychological chills.
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