The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘The Machinist’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Regional Editor for RiverTown Multimedia, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Machinist.”

The info:

The Movie: “The Machinist”

Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon

Director: Brad Anderson

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) An industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year begins to doubt his own sanity

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77 percent

Our take:

Brown: A week ago with “Love Actually,” we had basically every British actor just British-ing it up for yucks and love.

This week, we get to watch a British man act like an American with an identity surely taken from an industrial rock name generator get uncomfortably skinny.

Enter “The Machinist.”

I never saw this movie but knew about it for the same reasons that everyone else did: Bale dropping 63 pounds, getting little sleep and indulging in a diet of mainly coffee, tuna fish and apples in one of the most extreme cases of method acting. Six months later, Bale put on 100 pounds and played the Batman in the iconic Christopher Nolan movies. In hindsight, they should have put Tommy Wiseau opposite of Bale in “The Dark Knight.”

Now, while I make myself a reuben sandwich to A. put a dent in St. Patrick’s Day leftovers and B. ensure that I never get Bale skinny, what were your initial thoughts on “The Machinist,” Froemming?

Froemming: You mean “What happens when you combine ‘American Psycho,’ ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Se7en’ into one film: The Movie?” Yeah, I saw it once years ago, all I remembered was Bale looked meth-head skinny, like the personification of Central Minnesota.

This movie tries way too hard to be a David Fincher film. The washed-out colors, the psychological twists, it is “Fight Club” without the fighting. And without Brad Pitt’s abs.

It’s not a bad movie per se, it is just really predictable. But the performances are pretty great. So Brown, why don’t you put your arm into the machine of this review and get it started.

Brown: We begin with the opening credits, and as soon as Christian Bale’s name comes on screen, he’s rolling up a man in a carpet. So, I immediately had to pause the movie and check if I was watching “American Psycho” and this wasn’t Patrick Bateman trying to hide Paul Allen’s body.

Alas, it was a frail, bruised, disheveled man named Trevor Reznik (Bale). So, the writer of this movie was clearly into Nine Inch Nails.

Here, Reznik has driven out to the beach to throw this body in the ocean. Only, as he tries in vain to carry this body, he drops it and everything unravels just as a person is walking the lonely beach with a flashlight. Movie over, right? Nope.

Fast-forward a bit and we see Reznik getting blood off of himself by washing his hands with bleach. Yeah, don’t do this, people. Ever.

Froemming: As his OCD is going into overdrive, he sees a note that says “who are you?” so right away I knew there was a split personality thing going on. Because this man obviously lives alone and he is the only one who would be able to post notes to his obviously empty fridge.

But we also learn Reznik likes to visit prostitutes, so I guess another Red Flag on this man being a borderline personality and isolated? Reznik isn’t well.

Brown: He could just be a big fan of The Who?

Trent Trevor Reznik has only two friends that we’re made aware of: a hooker named Stevie (Leigh) and a waitress at an airport diner named Maria (Sanchez-Gijon). Why anyone would choose to go to an airport diner and have to deal with TSA security in order to get into anything at the airport is truly the mark of an insane person.

And there’s his work acquaintances, who seem like your run-of-the-mill, blue-collar workers. And Michael Ironside, who I think we need to start paying royalties to for all the JOE-DOWN movies he’s been in.

While sitting in his car to have a smoke and on the verge of sleeping in this dreary, colorless world, a red convertible pulls up with Morpheus from “The Matrix” this big, bald man named Ivan, who kind of looks like one of the Cenobytes from “Hellraiser,” only, you know, pre-hell.

This is the first out of six times in my notes that I wrote “Reznik! Sleep!”

Froemming: This was also the point where I said “yup, there is his other personality.” Why Reznik’s alter ego is Morpheus with a Cajun accent is beyond me, but here we are.

Ivan says he is filling in for another worker there, Reynolds, whom Ivan says was picked up on a felony. Instead of being “what the hell?” Reznik is like “that sounds about right.” I’m guessing the vetting process at his workplace isn’t all that great.

Brown: I didn’t think at this point it was an alter-ego thing. But I figured it was some sort of manifestation in Trevor’s head.

I can’t recall when this was said in the movie but Trevor admits during a tryst with Stevie that he hasn’t slept in an entire year. Which made me think this was a “Sixth Sense” situation and Trevor was dead because you can’t make it a year without sleep. Especially since he admits he doesn’t take drugs. Coffee and diner pie can only get you so far, Trevor. GO TO A HOSPITAL.

Froemming: A quick Google search told me a person can only go about 11 days without sleep. So this premise is pretty weak already.

Because of his weight loss and weird ability to quote OSHA laws to his boss, his superiors at the job want him to take a drug test, because that sort of thing just screams meth. And after this, Reznik does something we haven’t seen yet in a JOE-DOWN: Take out Michael Ironside before the movie is half over.

Brown: While Miller (Ironside) is doing repairs on one of the machines in this whatchamacallit (technical term) factory, Reznik sees Ivan working in the back of the factory, only for Ivan to give him the cutthroat sign. Panicked by this, Reznik turns the machine on by accident (also, the safety should have been on) and Miller’s hand gets severed off. And all my middle school shop nightmares came flooding back.

Even after Reznik has to tell his bosses what happened, we go back and the arm is still flopping around in the machine. Overkill for a guy like me, but that’s because I’m a wuss.

It’s not all bad for Miller, though. One day he’ll get a metallic arm, join the army, get a government job in Rio De Janeiro and help fight alien bugs when they wage war on Earth.

Sorry, getting my JOE-DOWN movies mixed up again. Ironside and all…

Froemming: This causes Reznik to panic, wash his hands with bleach, vomit and we see he is down to 119 pounds, then he crushes some chicken wings because purge the binge? His eating habits are troubling at best. But he sees a hangman game on a post-it on his fridge door. Because of lack of sleep and nutrition, his paranoid mind makes him go to his landlady, where he pays rent and creeps her out by asking if people have been hanging around outside his apartment. I’m sure all she could think of was “this man is clearly on drugs.”

Brown: Yeah, a movie that’s trying to be a more digestible “Fight Club,” seeing a hangman game that says —-er, you know right away it’s going to say “Killer.”

But, there’s no time for that, because it’s Mother’s Day and Trevor has agreed to go on a day date with Maria and her son Nicholas.

Now, I’m not a parent. People can do what they want. But if I’m a pre-teen child like Nicholas and my mom is bringing me to the shady carnival, the last person I want to be there with is (REDACTED) Slender Man.

Especially a Slender Man who agrees to have me go on a ride called Route 666.

Froemming: The ride was when I was 100 percent sure all of this was in his head. As the ride progressed, the more disturbing it got. It was basically a ride into the psyche of Reznik, which is kinda cool when you think about it, but still predictable.

By the way, how did you feel when the ride entered the brothel area and there was puppet sex going on?

Brown: Unphased. I did take my high-school girlfriend to “Team America: World Police” back in the 2000s, so it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.

Froemming: I can’t believe you’re single.

Brown: That’s not as bad as me taking a girl to “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist” on Valentines Day.

Now, you’re right, the ride does get more spooky as they go on. It reminded me a lot of the hospital scene from “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Which brings me to the overall issue with the movie. It’s not really the fault of “The Machinist,” but so many of the things it does, they’ve been done in other movies. It’s by no means a rip-off and on the whole, it’s a good movie. There’s just nothing groundbreaking in the story it’s telling.

At the tail end of Route 666, Nicholas has a seizure. Turns out he was epileptic. Maria is forgiving toward Trevor, but it’s never the best thing for a date to end with a drooling child on the ground.

This movie is kind of depressing. I need something to cheer me up.

I missed you, old friend.

Froemming: Well, I think it is a rip-off. It is a rip-off of David Fincher movies. Everything about it screams “I want to be David Fincher and have Trent Reznor as my friend too!” It looks and feels like a Fincher film, but lacks originality.

But back to the boy foaming at the mouth and the mother who wants to booze it up afterward, Maria brings Reznik back to her place for more flirting — remember when her child had a seizure just hours before? Well, Reznik goes to refill her drink and sees a Mother’s Day card on the fridge and realizes “hey, the hangman game probably spells ‘mother.’ I am going to go home and root through the garbage like George Costanza spotting a pastry.”

And so he does.

Brown: This is when Trevor starts to believe that everyone is in on a plot to drive him insane. Because someone has similar handwriting to Nicholas. For example, he has a beer with Ivan and finds a photo of the man going tuna fishing with his co-worker Reynolds. And when Trevor goes to work, after a tense conversation with Miller who expresses no hard feelings, Trevor nearly loses his own arm after the machine he’s repairing turns on mysteriously.

I’m beginning to think this factory is possessed by a poltergeist.

He starts screaming at his co-workers that they were trying to take his arm for revenge over Miller. And after his Charlie Kelly Pepe Silvia freakout, Trevor is finally fired.

GET SLEEP, TREVOR. GO TO A HOSPITAL.

Froemming: He should, but he doesn’t. He goes to Stevie’s, where he plays with that poor woman’s emotions. He tries to find Ivan at the bar, but doesn’t. His fridge starts leaking what looks like blood, which is kinda cool. He doesn’t pay his bills, which is shocking because if he doesn’t sleep, he has all the free time in the world to pay those.

So he heads to Miller’s home and goes through his Pepe Silvia routine again, which gets him a good old punch in the junk by Miller. Which, by this point, I welcomed because Reznik is going off the rails and I thought maybe that would ground him.

It might have, if he didn’t see Ivan’s sweet, sweet ride in the neighborhood taunting him.

Brown: After getting the plate numbers, Trevor tries unsuccessfully to get the ID of the driver from the DMV. So, I’ll reference “Always Sunny” for the second time when Trevor pulls the ol’ Charlie 1-2 by jumping out in front of a car to get hit on purpose.

Now, limping and bruised (and somehow without a broken bone considering how frail he is), Trevor goes to the police and reports a hit-and-run with Ivan’s plate number.

Froemming: I like how the guy at the DMV basically told a crazy man an easy way to find a home address of someone by claiming a hit-and-run and having a license number.

Well, the police has some bad news for old Trevor. The plates and the vehicle are his in a totally unsurprising twist. Trevor, instead of saying “oh, I might have a concussion from being rammed by eight tons of steel” just ups and runs away from the police. For a man who was limping like Keyser Söze, he is pretty quick on his broken feet.

Brown: OK, something that bothered me. After the police escape (where he goes down a tunnel akin to the Route 666 ride), we see Trevor back in his truck hunting down the red convertible. The last time we saw the truck was in front of the police station. So you mean to tell me that after escaping a police chase, Trevor just waltzes back to said police station and gets his truck back with no incident? No, I’m calling BS.

Froemming: This is Batman we are talking about, being stealthy is his thing.

Broken, bruised and out of his mind, Trevor goes to Stevie’s place again, where she bathes him and advises him to see a doctor, because he probably has internal injuries. Hell, she even cooks him dinner and they sort of agree to be a couple so she can go into retail and change her life, all totally felt shoehorned in for a love interest that goes nowhere. And this moment of awkward bliss between a man and his prostitute/girlfriend is shaken when Trevor sees the photo of Ivan on her shelf. And now he thinks she is in on it too, and that Ivan must be her crazy ex. Dude, you are becoming her crazy future-ex right now, in Tommy Wiseau-speak.

Brown: So, one friend hates him. Go to the other one, Trevor. He works his way through airport security to go to his diner and is greeted by Maria.

Only, it’s not the Maria we saw earlier. But Maria knows Trevor. She’s served him for a year now and even says that she thought Trevor was a mute because he wouldn’t say anything.

And, another freakout. This time it’s more like Brian’s firing scene from “Half-Baked.”

Not knowing what’s going on, Trevor drives home, where he sees Ivan with Nicholas going into Trevor’s apartment.

Froemming: This is where Trevor ends up fighting himself, shooting himself in the face to eliminate Tyler Durden and ending Project Mayhem as the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” plays…wait, no, wrong movie.

Trevor enters his place, where he finds Ivan shaving with a knife in his bathroom as the blood drenched fridge loomed in the background as he first entered the house. Ivan, in his jolly Cajun accent, tells Trevor that he knows Nicholas is dead and we are lead to assume the dead body is in the shower.

Thumbing its nose to the laws of physics, the movie has Trevor getting the best of a six-foot tall man who is probably well over 200 pounds and slashes his throat. Thus, bringing us back to the beginning of the movie. The whole time I was like “Patrick Bateman has hit a bad streak in life.”

Brown: Well, you think Nicholas is in the shower. Then after the knife fight and the empty shower, you think the freezer, which has blood pouring out of it like “The Shining” elevator. Alas, that’s a tuna fish that had thawed out since Trevor still has not paid his utility bill.

Froemming: He has ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD to pay that thing. I will not let that go.

Brown: It’s a valid criticism. He never seems strapped for cash. All he eats is pie and coffee. All he does with his free time is scrub his bathroom with bleach and a toothbrush. His bank account should have no issues.

And it’s here where the coffee cup shatters the tuna head hits the floor and memories start flooding back. It WAS Trevor in the fishing photo.

In a moment where I thought Trevor was “Groundhog Day”-ing himself, we see him with Ivan wrapped in a carpet driving to the ocean to dump the dead body.

Only this time, when the carpet unravels, there is no one in it. And the man with the flashlight is the Ivan we’ve seen through the entire movie.

Froemming: And it is here we realize what we already pretty much knew: A year prior, Trevor ran over a little boy (Nicholas) and saw the weeping mother (Maria) in that sweet, sweet ride of his. Instead of copping to it, he filed a stolen vehicle report to the police and lost his mind over the next year, where he lost a ton of weight and blacked everything out. Sure, the fact there was witnesses and the fact his car was stolen at a pretty convenient time for the police to not connect the dots made no sense, but that is what happened.

Brown: And the hangman game makes sense: it’s supposed to say “Killer.”

Called it.

So, Trevor has a choice: Flee again? Just like the heaven and hell turn at Route 666, he can either turn left or right. This time, he turns right and goes downtown instead of the airport.

Returning to the police station, Trevor reports a hit-and-run a year in the making and confesses.

While the cops want to make a statement, Trevor asks to go to a cell so he can sleep first.

Finally guilt free, Trevor is able to rest his eyes.

I’m kind of ready for a nap myself, so let’s bring ourselves to recommendations.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: Sure. Again, it’s nothing groundbreaking and the acting can get a little weird at times. But Bale is good in this. It’s a decent enough drama.

Froemming: Nah. This movie was made before and much better when it was called “Fight Club.” The performances are good, but it is pretty predictable.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: