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Friday, December 3, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

The skinny: "Machinist" is daring, haunting experiment

Seattle Times movie critic

The first sound we hear onscreen in Brad Anderson's moody thriller "The Machinist" is a gasp — and, when audiences see Christian Bale, another gasp is likely to follow. The handsome young actor has physically transformed himself into a stick figure, losing more than 60 pounds to play Trevor Reznik, a lean and desperate machinist and insomniac haunted by a terrible event in his past, hinted at in dim flashbacks.

Bent shirtless over a sink, his spine protrudes like a strange creature; it's as if you can see the inner workings of his body; any excess flesh stripped away. "If you were any thinner," says his call-girl girlfriend, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing a scratchy-voiced whore with a heart of gold), "you wouldn't exist."

It's an impressive stunt, and for a while it's a distraction: Bale looks so otherwordly that it's hard to focus on the dimly lit story unfolding, filmed in noirish shades of blue and black. But eventually, Anderson's careful eye for style and mood takes over, as does Scott Kosar's pared-down dialogue. Trevor's clearly out of control: He's haunted by strange notes on his refrigerator (which sometimes leaks disturbingly chocolate-brown bloodstreams), compelled to wash his hands with bleach and clean his apartment with lye. At work, a hellish machine shop where workers toil with clanky precision, he's unnerved by a new, malevolent-looking employee. And he retreats to an airport coffee shop, where the smile of a radiant waitress named Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) gives him hope for a better life.

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

***
"The Machinist," with Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Michael Ironside, John Sharian. Directed by Brad Anderson, from a screenplay by Scott Kosar. 102 minutes. Rated R for violence and disturbing images, sexuality and language. Uptown.

The puzzle of what happened to Trevor starts to slowly piece together, with flashbacks and clues slightly reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's equally moody "Memento." And Anderson gives it all an unexpected richness, with texture added by Roque Banos' majestic score (complete with a melancholy theramin, which adds a nicely shivery note), Xavi Gimenez's cinematography and production designer Alain Banee, who contributes a harrowing, garish amusement-park ride called Route 666.

Haunting and inventive, "The Machinist" spirals relentlessly toward its conclusion, sorting out reality and fantasy, removing the shadows from Trevor's story. It's one of those movies that you admire more than you enjoy, but Anderson and Kosar are clearly talents to watch. As is Bale (soon to become a household word in next year's "Batman Begins," directed by Nolan) — though in this film, you have to look closely to find him.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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