The Machinist

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(2004) ★★★

Sky Movies Select: Thursday 8 October, 6.00pm

Cut and bruised and shockingly emaciated, factory worker Christian Bale stares into the bathroom mirror. He’s so thin, you could play Tea For Two on his ribcage. “Who are you?” is scrawled on a post-it note. But Bale, eaten up with guilt and deranged by insomnia, doesn’t want to know who he is. His colleagues shun him and his bosses think he’s on drugs. When Bale’s distracted at work, Michael Ironside loses most of his hand inside a lathe.

It was the new guy who distracted Bale, making a throat-cutting gesture. That would be Ivan, a big black guy with a limp. Ivan, who doesn’t exist. Now his bosses are really worried about him. He confides in call-girl neighbour Jennifer Jason Leigh. But his paranoid delusions are making him jump to crazy conclusions. The gaunt Bale shed 63lbs for this role, and the closer you look the more he comes to resemble Bates Motel proprietor Anthony Perkins. It’s a typically committed performance from an undervalued actor in an uncomfortable psychodrama from Session 9 director Brad Anderson.

Everything is seen from Bale’s point of view, which is somewhat distorted. If there’s a sign to be seen, he’ll misread it. The setting is an anonymous American town. It would have to be – the film was shot in Badalona, Spain. The music is a clever conflation of Bernard Herrmann stylings – Psycho strings mixed with the spooky theremin strains of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The final score of the great composer himself features heavily in Martin Scorsese’s highly disturbed New York fever dream Taxi Driver (Film4 at 11.15pm). Herrmann’s music is as desolate and haunting as Robert De Niro’s portrayal of alienated Vietnam vet Travis Bickle. It’s one of cinema’s most riveting depictions of psychotic reaction.

Certificate: 15
Duration: 97min

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