Bale before ‘Batman’

Christian Bale is best known for his role as the iconic superhero Batman, a part he will reprise this July in the sure-to-be-blockbuster The Dark Knight. However, just before his role in 2005’s Batman Begins, Bale lent his impressive acting skill and incredible character range to a strange little film called The Machinist.

Directed by indie filmmaker Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland, Happy Accidents), the film is about a young industrial worker named Trevor Reznik (Bale). For a year, Reznik has been unable to sleep, and his insomnia has taken an alarming toll on his physical and mental health. He becomes emaciated to the point of being skeletal, and his only comfort comes from a lonely prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who might just be in love with him.

Soon after Reznik accidentally causes a horrific incident at work, strange things begin to happen in his life, and he suspects that a victim of the incident may be harassing him in a twisted retaliation plot. As the film unravels, Reznik turns detective and investigates these strange occurrences in the hopes of discovering who is behind his psychological torment. The horrible revelation he uncovers is far more complex than anything he could have imagined.

With its eerie, brooding vibe, The Machinist is in the same vein as the indie classic Memento, which was incidentally made by Bale’s Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan. Though it may not be nearly as masterful or commanding as the latter, The Machinist undoubtedly features hints of brilliance. In fact, the film is tonally akin to the absurdist works of Albert Camus, a novelist whose stories are often set in a surrealistic world lacking a traditional sense of logic.

Similarly, much of The Machinist will make little sense to first-time viewers. However, this is one of those films – much like The Usual Suspects and Identity – that is made great by its ending. The Machinist’s jaw-dropping conclusion adds a powerful layer of depth to the film and elevates it to a higher plane of filmmaking, instantly making it a memorable – if unpleasant – cinematic experience.

Burdened with the difficult task of making this bizarre world believable, Bale more than rises to the occasion, proving that he is one of the most versatile and gifted performers of his generation. With fine support from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Ironside (Scanners, Starship Troopers), Bale imbues Reznik with tragic hopelessness and effectively captures a vulnerability and panicked intensity befitting his hanging-by-a-thread character. The actor lost more than 60 pounds to play the gangly Reznik, and every ounce of his commitment to the character and the film is readily apparent.

Though The Machinist is ultimately a dark and disquieting work, the film paints an effective picture of human paranoia and desperation. This underrated gem earned barely more than a million dollars during its theatrical run, viewers will relish the film’s thematic elements, strong performances and startling finale.

Grade: B+Runtime: 102 min.Rating: R