The Machinist

(2004) ** 1/2 R
102 min. Paramount Classics. Director: Brad Anderson. Cast: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, John Sharian, Michael Ironside.

Though Brad Anderson's new film The Machinist proves a diverting exercise, it breaks no new ground in the psychological thriller genre. In fact, many viewers will get the nagging feeling that they've seen this film before, about five years ago. I can't name the film, for fear of giving away The Machinist, but the cinematographic style will be a dead giveaway for film buffs. Other bad signs are screenwriter Scott Kosar's inherently derivative credits: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and the upcoming Amityville Horror remake.

In an astonishing performance shadowed by extraordinary weight loss, Christian Bale plays Trevor Reznik, an industrial laborer with insomnia and an eating disorder. Each ailment is life-threateningly extreme: Trevor proves himself a danger to himself and others. More than once, he's told, "If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist." The cyclical dialogue and imagery help Anderson to dreamily misdirect the viewer and sustain the premise that the weakened Trevor can't quite get a hold on the realities of his existence. By the time he tells Jennifer Jason Leigh's prostitute with a heart of gold, "Something's happening to me, Stevie, some kind of plot," one of the film's secrets will be obvious, but the final twist retains satisfactory surprise regarding the mystery's origins.

The story's trappings--including ominous post-it notes, a theme-park ride called Route 666, and shout-outs to Dostoyevski and Kafka--contribute to the mortifying mood, and Roque Baños's old-fashioned creep-out score, complete with theremin, classically suits the proceedings. The film's greatest special effect is Bale, whose emaciation seems impossible were seeing it not believing it. Bale's haunted performance transcends the trick to create--pardon the pun--a fully-fleshed out performance, but the film around him is unfortunately lightweight.

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