Friday, December 18, 2009

Film Review: THE MACHINIST (2004, Brad Anderson)

Stars: 3.4 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Ironside, Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Tag-line: "How do you wake up from a nightmare, when you're not asleep?"
Best one-liner: "Congratulations, Reznik. You just made my shitlist!"

This is not really an Ironside movie, per sé, but hey- there's two reviews today.

THE MACHINIST is a surreal, existential mood piece in the same vein as David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, Alfred Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, or Lars von Trier's THE ELEMENT OF CRIME. Unfortunately, that's all it is: the final act is a straightforward, moralizing washout that basically negates the power of what preceded it. (And THAT is what the hangman game spells out?! Are you serious?) Fans have speculated that the American studios passed on the script because it was too 'outre' (the film was ultimately shot in and funded by Spain), but I would submit that they passed because Scott Kosar's script was so damned uninteresting (though Kosar found American funding for his TEXAS CHAINSAW and AMITYVILLE reboot scripts...ugh). But director Brad Anderson and emaciated star Christian Bale delve deeply- past the material, and into themselves- conjuring a twitchy, uncanny atmosphere that is truly haunting.

A ghostly pallor- a shroud- lies upon this film, and I'm not merely talking about the desaturation filters applied in post. It's a disquieting tone, one that befits the world of a man who cannot engage with sweet slumber's embrace, and there are brilliant elements that go beyond Christian Bale's commitment to starving himself: Michael Ironside's factory worker is a weary hardass who infuses his role with incredible pathos,

Roque Baños' imitation Bernard Herrmann score (with theremin!) provides the perfect 'warped 1950's' touch, and the film peaks at about the halfway mark as Bale accompanies a young boy on a carnival ride called 'Route 666,' a distorted, perverse reimagining of the 'Tunnel of Love.'

Full of terrifying animatronics, eerie silhouettes, and a complete loss of control, the sequence is one of the best horror setpieces in years, and reveals Anderson as a director to watch– who knows what he could accomplish given material worthy of, say, Rod Serling?

Plus, it's always great to see Ironside deliver a low blow:

And one which was totally deserved, I might add.

This could have easily been a five star flick with a more complex, innovative ending, but as it stands, I can only give it three. (Plus a little extra for the low blow, why not? This is the web's leading authority on brutal ball-squeezing.)

-Sean Gill

Stay tuned for the Ironside finale, later today.

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