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Usually I write about a film because I think it is remarkable and worthy of attention and respect. Very occasionally, I will write about a film that is worthy of being warned away from.

This is such a film. It is very, very bad. It is, in my mind, worse than a film that is openly bad (such as, say, Taxi) or a film that is enjoyably bad (such as, say, Armageddon) because it initially seems like it could be good.

(Many, many spoilers follow, but that's okay, because you won't see this.)

Essentially, this is a lazy rip-off of Fight Club. It is a story about a man with chronic insomnia who hallucinates a wacky charismatic alter ego which allows him to live in denial about all the violent crime he himself has committed. Dear Director Brad Anderson. If you are going to copy a movie so blatantly it should not be a (popular, well-loved) movie with a TWIST ENDING. Because then everyone will know how your film ends. In fact, I bet the ending would be easy to predict even in a world where I'd never seen Fight Club (although that is a scary-ass world I prefer not to think about) because Fight Club has humor and sex and danger and anarchy and all types of odd things meant to distract you from pondering the plot twist. Here, the pacing is painfully deliberate, the protagonist is never threatened, and yet he simply refuses to investigate his problems. It's as though he's bored by his own mystery.

Christian Bale, who has a weak spot for scripts that have many weak spots, like Equilibrium and American Psycho, plays the protagonist, named "Trevor Reznik" in a groaningly obvious nod to Trent Reznor. (He works in a machine shop! It's INDUSTRIAL, get it?!?) You might infer from this cue that this film claims to have a handle on whatever bleepy bloopy crap you kids today are shoving in your ears. But no, this orchestral score here is so old-fashioned and hammy it would make John Williams grimace. When things are supposed to feel eerie you hear an actual theremin. (Who's that lurking around the corner? OMG it's Brian Wilson!1!!!)

You may have read about the all weight Mr. Bale lost for this role. He went from 180 all the way down to 120, and he is a tall man. This means that you can see all of his bones. Yes, ALL of them. It is kinda horrifyingly gross. If that sounds like something that will turn you on in some way then perhaps you will want to pay ten bucks to sit through this piece of shit. But you should be warned that NEVER, and I mean NOT ONCE, does this weight loss affect the film's plot or get explained by it. It's as though Mr. Bale read the one line in the script where the character is described as thin and went grotesquely overboard preparing. Or figured out that no one would go see this without a gimmick.

Mr. Bale is not the only good actor wasted. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also here, and I am pleased to report that her breasts are as lovely as they were twenty-two years ago. But her character is the standard hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold-who-would-leave-the-life-if-only-she-met-the-right-john. This is an insulting cliche and teaches us nothing about what the sex industry does to women.

Here's a good example of how paying attention to the details in this film, instead of rewarding you, will cause you suffering. Reznik is in his pickup truck, tailing his "mysterious" coworker Ivan, who has toes grafted on for thumbs, who can disappear at will, and who according to Reznik's bosses does not exist. He squints at the plate on Ivan's red convertible and says the license number out loud. In the very next shot Reznik's pickup pulls to a stop and you can clearly see that his own plate number is a mirror image of the one he just repeated out loud for you. Ah, you say, well that's fitting for a car which only exists in Reznik's head. You have known this car exists only in Reznik's head for upwards of a half hour.

But because Reznik is much slower than you, so slow in fact that he does not know his own plate number, he goes to the DMV, who refuse to divulge Ivan's identity. Beyond desperate now, he gets himself run over on purpose so that he can limp into a police station and falsely claim that Ivan pulled a hit-and-run on him.

The scenario now goes from pointless to absurd when the cops give him the news. They do not say, "We have no plate with that number on record, and in fact it's your own plate backward. Ha ha very funny." They say, "That's YOUR convertible. You reported it stolen a year ago. It is a felony to file a false report hence initiate chase sequence." Wait, WHAAA??!! I understand, hypothetically, the repression of a traumatic event, but how is one supposed to repress an entire car that one owned for years? And on top of that, was I NOT supposed to notice the backwards thing? Was it just "something extra for the fans", not meant to be taken literally? Like the whole skinny thing, which was the reason I decided to see this?

This is intended to be a serious film about random tragedy and its aftermath, about the disease of urban sprawl, about the delusion of human connection. All these are grave subjects deserving of our attention. But this is cheap moronic hackwork which exploits and trivializes these subjects, and so it is deserving of my middle finger. Two toes down.

I hate to argue with a movie critic I usually agree with, but I found The Machinist to be an interesting if not fast-paced film. What made it intriguing was that it was a close look at the mind of a long-term insomniac. What would you be like if you hadn't slept in a year? 

Christian Bale chose to portray the character of Trevor Resnik, who has had insomnia for a year, as a man wasting away both physically and mentally and I think he chose well despite the health risks such a dramatic weight-loss probably brought with it. A thin man simply would not have been as believable as the emaciated, painful to look at skeleton Bale presents. Why would the other characters make statements such as "if you were any thinner you wouldn't exist" if he wasn't so painfully thin? Then again, why would prostitute Stevie, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh find him so attractive and want to date him either?

While it's easy to pick up the fact that Reznik's off-kilter paranoia is the most likely culprit behind what he's experiencing, what sneaks up on you at the end is the cause of his insomnia in the first place. Nothing in the film causes you to stop and wonder why he hasn't slept in so long, instead you are trying to figure out what trouble he'll get himself into next, if he'll live much longer as his weight dwindles to 119 despite gorging on greasy chicken, and what exactly is going on with the the violent flashes that don't seem to resolve into an actual crime? The closest hint they give you is the repeated association with "mother" whether it's the actual word, an object, or a person. 

Walter claims that The Machinist is a blatant rip-off of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club because in one way or another the film largely takes place in the mind of the character without him realizing it. Well then I guess Palahniuk must have ripped off American Psycho, a novel written five years earlier by Bret Easton Ellis, in which the character believes he's committed unspeakable acts only to discover at the end that they were all in his head. Point in fact, why wouldn't a character who hadn't slept in over a year have paranoid delusions? Is it more believable that an office-jockey would have a ripped, rough-neck alter ego or that a guilt-wracked man who has a serious case of sleep deprivation would see things that aren't there and suffer memory loss?

By no means is The Machinist the movie-of-the year, nor is it something I'd watch when eager for fast-paced violence or splodies. Frankly it is a Leaving Las Vegas type of film, wherein you watch a character's emotional state slowly degrade. However when it's a lazy Sunday afternoon and you want something intriguing that you can just sit back and watch unfold this isn't a bad choice. Then again, I watched it after a night of movie watching ending at 5am with only 5 hours of sleep charging me for the next day. Perhaps it was my mental state that caused me to like the film despite a lack of adrenalin or laughs.

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