Christian Bale shed a frightening 63 pounds to play the cadaverous lathe operator whose past is haunting him with a vengeance in a psychological nightmare that grips like a vice. Director Brad Anderson gets the balance between harsh reality and blurry mystery mind-blowingly right with this precision-tooled, finely calibrated triumph. Watch the sparks fly.
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Memory isn't so much playing tricks on factory-worker Trevor Reznik as torturing his every waking hour with a vicious stream of cerebral wind-ups.
A year of body-sapping insomnia has reduced him to a skeletal shadow tormented by whirring neuroses about what is - and what isn't - happening.
Exactly who is Ivan, his bullet-headed co-worker at sinister National Machine, and why is someone sticking post-it notes featuring stages of a game of hangman on his fridge door?
The only moments of sanity visited on his befuddled mind are trips to kind-hearted whore Jennifer Jason Leigh and his late night cup of coffee at the airport bar waited on by single mum Aitana Sanchez-Gijon.
However, even these brief glimpses of normality are snatched from him when a moment of inattention leads to a fellow machinist losing his arm in an industrial accident.
It seems that his co-workers' locker-room banter has turned to deep mistrust, the game of hangman's getting perilously close to some sort of conclusion... and he still can't sleep.
Indie darling Brad Anderson has forged a blackly compelling slice of Kafka-esque confusion; a psychological thriller with a steel spine.
However, it's Christian Bale's gauntly convincing performance as Reznik - the man cursed by a past he can't see - that fires up this sleek tale of 24/7 paranoia.
Shedding four stone - that's a third of his bodyweight - to achieve his spectral appearance, Bale brings a bleak, frustrated incomprehension to Reznik's predicament.
Permeating everything is the atmosphere of vintage David Lynch; saturated tones and bleached film stock conveying the dense sense of isolation.
It's easy to get these sorts of movies catastrophically wrong. Anderson gets it mind-blowingly right.
The Machinist is a precision-tooled, finely calibrated triumph. Watch the sparks fly.