The Machinist – Amazon Prime Week

The Machinist is currently available on Amazon Prime.

An industrial worker who has not slept in a year begins to doubt his own sanity “

“Who are you?”

The Machinist represents method acting at its finest. Christian Bale lost over sixty pounds to play this role, dropping all the way down to 110. He wanted to lose more but the producers became concerned about his health. He had no more than an apple, a can of tuna, and a cup of black coffee each day for months and that was it. He even took up smoking to fight the hunger cravings. Immediately after The Machinist, Bale had to turn around and bulk up for Batman Begins. Now that is a dedicated actor. Be right back – I am off to grab a snack.

Christian Bale does a fantastic job of playing Trevor Reznick. In addition to his increasing weight loss and insomnia, Reznick suffers from a bizarre set of behaviors often associated with meth addiction: obsessive-compulsive disorder, paranoia, an inability to get his hands clean – even using bleach, and a concern that he might be hallucinating.

Bale is ably supported by co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh underwent her own metamorphosis when she went down to 86 pounds to play an anorexic in The Best Little Girl in the World (1981). Here she plays Stevie, a down on her luck prostitute. Aitana Sanchez-Gijon is good as a sympathetic waitress. John Sharian is the mysterious Ivan.

Poor character actor Michael Ironside. In Total Recall (1990), he plays a villain who loses his arms to hero Schwarzenegger. In Starship Troopers (1997), he loses an arm in the military. Well let us just say that maybe he is typecast here.

Writer Scott Kosar turned in a brilliant script for The Machinist. Unfortunately the Hollywood studios felt it was too dark and Kosar and director Brad Anderson could not get it filmed. They finally found backing in Spain so, in spite of the whole film being in English with mostly English and American actors, it was filmed entirely in Barcelona with tons of props to make it seem like Los Angeles.

Literature majors will find much to love here as the script is an amalgamation of, not to mention an homage to, the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Nods to Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Double are featured in the plot, characters and visually.

Brad Anderson and cinematographer Xavi Gimenez make wonderful use of the 2.35 scope and give the film a wonderful modern expressionistic look. The score by Roque Banos is evocative of Bernard Herrman, particularly in the use of the theremin. These are all in support of the wonderful story and performance of Christian Bale.

People Watch: Reg E. Cathey, who plays Jones in The Machinist, previously worked with Bale on American Psycho as Al, the derelict. He would go on to play Norman Wilson on The Wire.

Henry V – Shakespeare Week

One of my favorite plays this past outdoor season was The Merry Wives of Windsor. The Merry Wives was written in part because Sir John Falstaff had proven to be a very popular character in the histories. Naturally I chose to go back to one of those histories.

Henry V is currently available on instant Netflix.

Henry V (1989) – Rated PG-13

“Making his directing debut, Kenneth Branagh does William Shakespeare’s play proud in this epic screen adaptation that follows headstrong King Henry V as he leads a heavily outnumbered army into a territorial war against France.”

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, Be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day! “

Above is just a part of the rousing St. Crispian speech. As with any of Shakespeare’s plays, I could go on putting quote after quote. The bard’s facility with language is enviable. Laurence Olivier filmed a wonderful version of Henry V back in 1948 but I daresay that this Kenneth Branagh version is the definitive work.

Derek Jacobi is brilliant as the Chorus and does a wonderful job setting the stage. Branagh has Jacobi flex back and forth from a modern performance of the play to the actual time period. Where such transitions would be problematic, Jacobi is only heard in voiceover.

Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Henry V is electric. He knows exactly when to emphasize and when to underplay lines. Branagh is a man who lives and breathes Shakespeare. His St. Crispian speech is quite rousing.

Everyone else’s performance is spot on. Brian Blessed gives a very nuanced performance as Exeter, not something he is known for. Robbie Coltrane is excellent in his all-too-brief role of Falstaff. Judi Dench makes a great Nell and Emma Thompson has two scenes as Princess Katherine.

The only quibble I have with the film are the battle sequences. Probably due to finances but also because of the nature of plays, the battle scenes are of a much smaller scale than was historically the case. The slaughter of the French by the English longbow (over 3/4 of Henry’s army were longbowmen) is not really given attention here. Then again the sheer will of Henry and his ability to inspire is part of the theme of the play.

Oh wait I have one more quibble. After so thoroughly enjoying Falstaff, Pistol, Corporal Nym, and Bardolph in Merry Wives, I was disheartened to see how few survive Henry V.

People Watch: We missed him entirely but we noticed in the end credits that Christian Bale played Robin the luggage boy.