The Machinist Brad Anderson

Though it seemed to get attention only for Batman Christian Bale's astonishing (and probably stupid) commitment to lose more than 60 pounds for the title role, The Machinist is a dark, brooding thriller in the Hitchcock tradition that works more as a psychological study than as a twisty "gotcha" ride. Bale is Trevor Reznik, a walking skeleton who's suffered from insomnia for a year; he sleepwalks through his work as a tool-and-die machinist, and even through some bored-looking sex with his best friend, a prostitute played with perfected ennui by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Sleep-deprived, Reznik wanders through his life as if it's all a dream, and it becomes evident early on that some of it is — it's one of the missteps of the film that it puts Reznik's dream state/reality divide as a central mystery that begs to be solved, instead of simply emphasising the astonishing psychological tension at play. Bale walks through the grey-fused world in an increasingly paranoid state, convinced that he's the victim of a widespread conspiracy. The so-called "mystery" isn't what makes this fascinating though; it's the tone, the look, Bale's performance and themes of disenchantment, with its echoes of Dostoevsky and Sartre, that make The Machinist compelling. The film's vaguely everywhere and nowhere look, it turns out, comes from trying to create an American city in Barcelona of all places; the above-average "making of" featurette was filmed by a Spanish crew, which is probably why it avoids studio clichés. Brad Anderson (Next Stop, Wonderland, Session 9) outlines many of the challenges on an entertaining commentary that proves that even he can't help but gawk and comment on Christian Bale's skeletal appearance. It's a creepy element, to be sure, but not the only reason to check out The Machinist. Plus: deleted scenes. (Paramount Classics)