Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is literally a shell of the man he used to be. He has perpetual insomnia, which has drained the life from his body and most of the sanity from his mind. He is haunted by an unnerving, hidden guilt that leaves him at turns both exhausted and paranoid, which is a dangerous combination at his demanding job as a machine operator in a local factory. The one area of solace in his life comes from moments that he spends with two local women: Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a local prostitute he frequents; and Marie, a single mother working at the airport deli counter he visits late at night.
His lonely, but predictable, routine is interrupted when cryptic notes begin showing up in his apartment. This is soon followed by the arrival of a new worker named Ivan at the factory. The only problem is that no one else seems to have met Ivan except for Trevor. Trevor's paranoia and distraction by Ivan eventually leads him to accidentally cause a gruesome accident for a co-worker. But when a similar accident almost befalls Trevor, he begins to suspect that someone is after him. And he's desperately trying to figure out who and why before he wastes away permanently.
The Machinist has two major and obvious distinctions going for it, as well as one working against it. Its most glaring characteristic is the horrifically graphic image of Christian Bale's weight loss for the role. Shedding over sixty pounds from his frame to achieve a skeletal, near-death weight, Bale's portrayal of tortured insomniac Trevor Reznik adds a shocking depth of reality to the character.
The second distinction for the film is its look, which juxtaposes an almost nouveau-thriller plot against an intentionally pastiche visual style. Both its location and time period are vague, and it has a marked avoidance of technology, to achieve this almost timeless quality. Obvious stylistic nods to suspense films from the '40s and '50s help underscore some of the dreamlike sections of the film as Trevor tries to unravel the nightmarish mysteries surrounding the spiraling deterioration of his physical and mental condition.
Director Brad Anderson delivers a stylish and harrowing look at psychological imbalance caused by a haunting and immobilizing guilt for past sins. It is equal parts suspense, drama, and thriller with strong acting and solid visual design. In all ways but one it is an excellent film.
The one thing working against the film is that the plot isn't entirely original. Mentioning specific films in a similar vein might ruin the surprise here, but suffice it to say that it's merely a nice variation on an already established theme. Granted, it takes that fundamental idea and wraps it in dramatically different clothing; and in fact, the "surprise" here is less pivotal to the point of the movie, and is foreshadowed more intentionally. But this lack of originality with the overall theme is the only glaring minus.
The cinematography of this film lends itself very easily to showcasing how good Blu-ray can look. Although its color palette is intentionally limited, that only intensifies the visual aspects on display. The Machnist has an otherworldly muted nostalgia to it that is only a couple of steps removed from being a black-and-white film. Its emphasis of blue hues and intense shadows and contrasts give it a rich film noir look that borders on graphic novel. The black levels for this transfer receive a workout, and deliver the goods. Detail is crisp and rich, and director of photography Xavi Gimenez's dramatic stylistic touches offer varied and potent examples to show off high definition, from detailed character close-ups to dramatic background landscapes. It's not quite reference quality, and there also instances of light dust and debris spots on the print, but overall this is a very nice transfer of an impeccably shot movie.
The audio presentation is a bit less dramatic, but still a solid offering. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack gives ample presence to dialogue and music, but this isn't a particularly "active" thriller. Tension and suspense are developed more on the psychological level, and the sound reflects this more subtle, measured approach. There are hints of more obvious rear-channel elements – generally with foley and atmospheric touches – but the predominance of activity occurs in the front sound field. This doesn't detract from the experience at all, but is simply to point out that this won't push the limits of your home theater setup. Still, it is effective in its subdued role.
"The Machinist: Breaking The Rules" featurette (SD, 25:19) is a cut above the usual, delivering a documentary-style look at the more technical aspects of the shoot. It's quite interesting, and is directed with a genuine sense of style. "Manifesting The Machinist" (HD, 23:00) serves as the all-purpose feature, focusing on the origins of the story, the actors involved, shooting the movie in Spain, and production challenges. "The Machinist: Hiding In Plain Sight" (HD, 13:58) deals exclusively with symbolic elements and themes within the story, focusing on interviews with writer Scott Kosar and director Brad Anderson.
Anderson in turn provides an interesting and thorough director's commentary track. His delivery sounds a bit tired, but he makes up for it by highlighting much of the technical and thematic details of the film. There are eight deleted and alternate scenes (SD, 12:05) on the disc, which offer additional but extraneous information. Also included is the theatrical trailer (SD, 2:32). It should be noted here that with the exception of the trailer, all of the bonus features, at least to some degree, include spoilers for the mystery of the film. You've now been mildly warned to watch the movie first.
The Machinist displays a quality of both film and presentation that I hope we see more of with catalog releases on Blu-ray. Not only does it noticeably improve the picture and sound over the DVD version on a technical level, but its ancillary material actually enhances the understanding and enjoyment of the main feature. It's a worthy package for a quality movie. This film is highly recommended as a rental for anyone, and a solid purchase for fans of stylish film noir suspense.