The Machinist (2004) – 3/5

Bleak, well shot, well acted film with a plodding story that often relies too heavily on the insanity of our main character to sustain itself. It doesn’t always work, though it has a very strong beginning and a few good scenes here and there. But the writing and directing feel somewhat amateur at times, with a pedestrian story suited more for a college short film festival than a widely distributed Hollywood-type feature. The thing is just full of clichés and convenient plot twists and strange, “multi-layered” imagery that may or may not make sense within the context of the story. It’s not terrible, it’s just not very well polished narratively.

The story is ultimately pretty bare bones once you finally get a sense of what’s going on. It’s essentially just about **SPOILERS** a guy slowly going mad with guilt over a crime he committed in his recent past. **END SPOILERS** Not much else there, not much else happens. And the stuff that does happen is confusing, especially all the things with **SPOILERS** the bald guy who pops up everywhere, and the main character’s relationship with the Hispanic lady and her son. I understand that these were all just figments of his imagination, but why the bald guy? Who was he supposed to be exactly? Why was he so deformed? And why did the main character have such a complex courting/romance type thing with a woman whom we find out at the end he never even saw? **END SPOILERS** It’s lazy screenwriting disguised as clever because, hey, the guy’s crazy! He’s totally losing it, so it all must make sense! No logic necessary!

Overall, not a terrible film, just kind of a mess structurally, and sloppily written. Great acting though from Christian Bale, and Jennifer Jason Leigh who is really sweet and pretty here. Movies like this are very difficult to make well, I understand; it’s a challenge to capture insanity on camera successfully and in a coherent, entertaining manner. The lack of a strong story here certainly doesn’t help matters. Maybe if the film had been more straightforward, less reliant on wacky imagery and strange plot diversions to get its point across, it would have worked better. And the Hitchcockian vibe is so strong here, from the music down to the cinematography; it’s all just too much. The music especially is great, but like something out of another movie entirely. It’s really distracting.

Okay film; not the best crafted story wise, but excellent cinematography and some strong performances here and there. And some of the imagery was okay. Nothing to write home about, though.


  1. November 15th, 2012
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