Brad Anderson has been a director to watch ever since making his feature debut with romantic comedy Next Stop Wonderland (1997), but The Machinist is something radically different. It's a haunting thriller with Christian Bale doing "a bag o' bones star turn" as an insomniac losing his grip on reality. Critics were seduced by the nightmarish world Anderson created, but a lack of marketing muscle translated into slim pickings at the worldwide box office.
The Bare Bones
"I was drawn more to the atmosphere that Scott [Kosar] created rather than the story," explains Anderson in a half-hour interview. He covers most aspects of the production like his stylistic approach, the challenges of using Barcelona as a stand-in for Los Angeles, and, most intriguing of all, watching Bale starve himself to near-death. He insists that the dramatic weight loss wasn't his idea but that Bale simply turned up on the first day of shooting looking like he did. Even so, the director eventually confesses, "I was both appalled and thrilled."
Bale offers his thoughts from the Spanish set in a fairly detailed 'making of' featurette. Perversely he talks about his emaciated condition as "a victory" in terms of nailing the character. Indirectly though, he concedes that it was also an impediment to shooting some of the more demanding action scenes. "Watching me run is a joke," he says, "because I've got no leg muscles!" We hear more from Anderson and first-time screenwriter Scott Kosar who, in a less literal way than Bale, explains that this was a story that "came from the gut".
Rage Against The Machine
In the feature commentary, Anderson explains his decision to shoot the film in Europe rather than America and ends up surprisingly critical of his home industry. "I think they found the subject matter a little too dark," he says, "which tells you a little bit about the American independent film industry." Still he comes across as a laidback character with very specific ideas about the craft of filmmaking. He talks about wanting to make "an old-fashioned thriller" using the model of 40s noir - even with regards to the music. For instance, Roque Baños' score was inspired by the work of Hitchcock's favoured composer, Bernard Herrmann.
Anderson also gives commentary for two out of eight deleted scenes. The first sees Trevor (Bale) trying to resolve his feelings of guilt, but there are leaps in logic, which mean it raises more questions than it answers. The second is a scene that Anderson requested Kosar insert into the script and finds Trevor making a desperate bid to skip town. In this case, an attempt to fill a gap in a muddled string of events winds up "slowing down" the story. Nonetheless there are some interesting character notes to be gleaned here.
A separate focus on technical matters like production design and cinematography would have been a great addition, but as it is, this DVD release for The Machinist will definitely get the cogs turning.