The Machinist

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Machinist Movie Poster Image
Dark but razor-sharp thriller has graphic violence, language
  • R
  • 2004
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The takeaway is eventually fairly clear: we shouldn't lie or try to avoid responsibility for the mistakes we've made, no matter how bad. A minor character tells a derogatory story about a transsexual.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The movie's main character is an enigma, seemingly a victim, and it's not clear exactly what's happening to him throughout most of the movie. Eventually we learn about something awful that happened in his past, and, though it's a hard decision with a cost, he finally does the right thing.

Violence

Man's arm ripped off by machine, blood spatter. Severed hand spinning on machine. Photo of severed fingers. Man slices another man's neck. Scary carnival ride, with dead bodies, gore, and blood. (A kid goes on the ride.) Blood dripping from freezer door, all over floor. Man punches other man. Woman slaps a man. Man hit by car, cuts and bruises on face. Chasing, pushing people out of the way. Hit-and-run accident. Man tries to dispose of a dead body. Neck-slicing gesture. A man has toes transplanted to his hands (to replace lost fingers). A kid has an epileptic seizure.

Sex

A man frequently visits a prostitute. He lays on his back; she kisses his chest, and moves downward, off camera (indicating oral sex). He pays her in cash. Naked female breasts. Carnival ride features fake, animatronic silhouettes of a woman being spanked and a woman giving a man oral sex. A couple is caught in a bathroom stall. Some strong sex-related talk. A derogatory story about a transsexual.

Language

Fairly frequent strong language includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," the "N" word, "a--hole," "son of a bitch," "bastard," "hell," "whore," "coochie," "prick," plus "Jesus," "Christ," and "Jesus Christ."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character, and others, smoke cigarettes. Main character drinks bourbon. Drinking wine socially. Main character accused of "shooting coke"/being a "dope fiend."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Machinist is a dark thriller about a man with insomnia, who is wasting away and possibly seeing things. Christian Bale garnered attention with his astounding weight loss for the role, but the movie itself is still clever and solidly-crafted, if relentlessly downbeat. It contains some brutal violence, including neck-slicing, blood and gore, an arm torn off by a machine, punching and slapping, and characters hit by cars. The main character visits a prostitute. Oral sex is suggested, and female breasts are shown. A carnival ride features strongly suggestive sexual images, and there's some sex talk (including derogatory talk about a transsexual). Language is strong and includes uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," and the "N" word. The main character and others smoke cigarettes, and social drinking is shown.

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What's the story?

In THE MACHINIST, Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) has had insomnia for a year. Looking like an emaciated skeleton, he goes to work in an industrial factory and occasionally visits a prostitute, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh). He also goes to an all-night airport cafe and chats with a server there, Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). Marie invites Trevor to spend Mother's Day with her and her son, Nicholas (Matthew Romero). Trouble starts after he meets a mysterious new worker, Ivan (John Sharian), and Trevor is immediately involved in an accident that costs the arm of a co-worker (Michael Ironside). He also begins seeing strange Post-It notes on his refrigerator, depicting a "hangman" game in progress. Is Trevor's insomnia beginning to mess with his mind, or is it something worse?

Is it any good?

Aside from Bale's shocking, emaciated appearance (and fine performance), this puzzle-box thriller features a razor-sharp plot and faultlessly moody, cutting direction by genre expert Brad Anderson. Lumped in with many similarly twisty movies during its day and subsequently underrated, The Machinist deserves more of an audience today. Bale's astonishing weight loss (64 pounds) and his resulting skeletal, shuffling, half-life performance is certainly the first thing anyone notices. But a closer look reveals just how solid the screenplay, by Scott Kosar, is. In retrospect, just about every little piece locks brilliantly into place, and its buildup and execution are clever without relying too much on tricks.

Best of all is Anderson's (The Call, Stonehearst Asylum, Beirut, etc.) skilled touch. Using the factory and its grinding machines as a cue, the director creates a steely-gray world, blanketed with clouds, slowing building toward sunlight as hope rears its head. He mirrors certain shots and ideas to subtly, thematically tie the puzzle together. Bale's slow-gear, murmuring performance also helps the pacing and tone of the storytelling, and Leigh, as usual, brings life to her small role. The editing gives a jumpy, edgy rhythm, suggesting nightmares, and the creepy music score by Roque Baños completes the package. If the movie has a flaw, it's that it can be relentlessly downbeat, and even a little queasily grotesque.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Machinist's use of violence. How brutal is it? What effect does it have? Does it feel over the top, or appropriate for this story?

  • How does the movie show sex? What values are imparted? What is the main character's relationship to the prostitute? Is the prostitute a good character?

  • What is the movie's ultimate takeaway? Is the character rewarded in any way for doing the right thing?

  • Does Christian Bale's weight loss distract from, or add to, his performance? Is it distracting in the movie?

  • Would the story have been better if it had been told in a straightforward way, rather than as a kind of puzzle?

Movie details

For kids who love thrills

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