The Machinist, AKA El Maquinista (2004)

Director: Brad Anderson

Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Ironside,  Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, John Sharian, Anna Massey

Script: Scott Kosar

Photography: Xavi Giminez

Fact: Though set in America, the film was filmed entirely in Spain with an all Spanish crew.

In a lineA factory worker's psychological problems take on a variety of physical forms.


Christian Bale plays Trevor Reznik (in no way a reference to Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor or Crime and Punishment's Raskolnikov) a man slowly dying from insomnia and weight loss.

Reznik works in a grim factory in an unnamed Southern US state. He is feared and hated by his fellow workers and spends his time attempting a nervous courtship with airport cafeteria server Marie (Sanchez-Gijon) as well as regular visits to prostitute Stevie (Leigh, who is good enough to get 'them' out for the 'lads' as well as the doomed Trevor).

Reznik's insomnia (and a mysterious worker called Ivan) causes him to be distracted at work and his inattentiveness leads to an industrial accident in which equally creepy co-worker Miller (the always excellent Michael Ironside) loses his left arm.

Ivan (a tremendous performance from weirdo actor Sharian) keeps appearing and disappearing. Only Resnick seems to be aware of his existence and in a scary plot development, Resnick sets out to find out the reality of Ivan's true nature.

Even more sinister (and there are plenty of references to both the modern and original 'left-handed' meaning of the word) than this, is Reznik's visit to a funfair with Marie and her epileptic son. A trip on the world's most horrible ghost train almost results in the death of Marie's son and Reznik begins to realise that he is both doomed and damned.


Anyone familiar with the work of writer Robert Bloch (as opposed to British writer Bob Block who wrote Pardon My Genie, Rentaghost and the better episodes of The Sopranos) may have an inkling as to the root cause and manifestations of Reznik's suffering, but I won't away any more clues.

The Machinist is ideal for any film fan or bookworm (I've just erased cineaste and bibliophile in case I get battered up again by cyber bullies). Lots of references to Dostoevsky, Hawthorne and Macbeth as well as intentional or inadvertent nods to Hitchcock, Fight Club, Memento, Jacob's Ladder and (due to the casting of Anna Massey) Michael Powell's (vile and overrated) Peeping Tom. The unravelling of the clues to Reznik's torment reminded me of Drowning By Numbers by Peter Greenaway (and aren't we all glad that he's finally fucked off?) or even Jon Pertwee's Whodunnit? (an intellectual smorgasbord on par with some of the more cerebral episodes of Scooby Doo) series from the 1970s.

The blue/grey hued cinematography effectively conveys Reznik's miserable life and there's a dream-like quality to the whole film. Good performances from Ironside, Leigh and Sharian, but Bale's devotion to his art (he lost over sixty pounds to play the emaciated Reznik) makes even De Niro's shape change for Raging Bull look distinctly second-rate. Bale's skeletal, cadaverous appearance is genuinely shocking.

A good film in many respects, but not really a fitting testament to Bale's unbelievable efforts in effecting the greatest physical transformation in cinema history.