Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I went to see The Machinist last night. I would recommend that if you haven't seen it yet then you should find something more productive to do with your time, like watching paint dry perhaps. I also can't discuss it without giving away most of the film so if you insist on going to see it don't read any further.

Tyler Durden, whoops, my bad, Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is the eponymous blue collar machinist at a workshop making... things (it's never established what they actually do, so it's not that important). He has occasional sex with tender-hearted tart Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) but spends most of his night time when not with her at a airport diner where he chats to waitress Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). He becomes unpopular at work when he's distracted which leads to a colleague loosing his arm in one of those big machines used for causing injury to actors in this type of film, especially when he's told the worker he blames for disctracting him, Ivan (John Sharian), doesn't exist. When he goes to a funfair with Marie and her son a ride on the Ghost Train proves strangely affecting, hinting to some suppressed trauma in his past. Is there a conspiracy amongst the people in his life against him or is he just nuts? Hands up right now who thinks it's option a? Anyone? Anyone at all?

There's a good idea for a story buried deeply in here, trying to get out. It's called Fight Club. It's also reminiscent of Jacob's Ladder or even Vanilla Sky, with the lead character's life getting steadily worse until he's willing to accept responsibility for his actions. The problem is that the average viewer will have reached the conclusion about halfway through the film and be waiting impatiently for Trev to catch up. Right near the start he helpfully explains to Stevie that he has suffered insomnia for a year, so right away we know something bad happened a year ago (and as the film opens with him trying to dump a roll of carpet with a body inside at sea we're immediately thinking that maybe he killed someone a year ago, right idea, wrong person) but also we're thinking "hang on, you can't go more than a few days without sleep, so either you're bullshitting or this is all some massive delusion" so when at the after-accident inquiry he's told that no-one called Ivan works there, he's wondering whether people at work are trying to mess with his head, we're all thinking "well he's imagined Ivan hasn't he?", especially as Ivan doesn't interact with his environment IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER. And he's worked for a year with heavy machinery and insomnia and not had any other accidents at all?

Screenwriter Scott Kosar tries to cheat us with script details but it doesn't work. In what I assume is an attempt to throw us off the scent he gives Ivan and Marie's son depth, Ivan has toes transplanted on to his hand after an accident, Marie's son has epilepsy, but they turn out to be imaginary and no reason is given for this. If Trevor had somehow blanked out suffering an injury and having his toes transplanted, or if he suffered from epilepsy that might make some sense. I don't mind Ivan looking different to Trevor, it's like Jack and Tyler Durden in FC, but it's a cheat to make him abnormal too and then never give a reason. But as it is they are just meaningless events to pad out scenes.

By two-thirds of the way through the film it all descends in to farce. Trevor walks in front of a car in order to complain to police of a hit-and-run in the hopes they'll check the number plate of Ivan's car for him (it does make a certain sense in the film). So he does this right in front of the police station. Yet none of the people walking around help him when he's hit by a car, the driver doesn't stop and no witnesses help him in to the police station and point out he's given the wrong details? When he receives the, not shocking to us, news that Ivan's car is one HE wrote off A YEAR AGO he then runs out of the police station, limping down the road he's still able to evade two policemen. All that's missing is the Benny Hill music.

The other laugh out loud moment is that mysterious post-it notes appear around his flat, trying to jog his memory on something. One of these is in the form of a hangman puzzle, _ I L _ E R. Now, by this point we're pretty certain he's done something bad. So he tries to finish the puzzle, with a L in the middle space. Then, with something like triumph he puts in an M at the start and breathes "Miller!", the name of an injured co-worker, in triumph. This had the cinema I saw it at in hysterics. When he gets it right later on, with a K instead, it's treated as though it's a major surprise.

Basically this is a fairly stupid movie that weighs itself down with always overcast skies and a green wash on the camera to leach the colour out of scenes and then mistakes this for depth. This really is one to avoid. The sad thing is how Christian Bale put his health in danger to starve himself so thin for this role. If he puts this much method into his parts, can we expect him to be dressing up as a nocturnal avian rodent and go around London by night beating up ne'er-do-wells in preparation for Batman Begins?


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