Right before he took up Batman's cape and cowl to restart the franchise, Christian Bale had to lose a lot of weight for his role in The Machinist. Giddy press releases report that he lost 63 pounds over a period of months, living on cigarettes and Dostoyevsky. Whatever that means.
Bale has demonstrated the willingness to sacrifice star power to create deep characters in American Psycho and as Bruce Wayne, but he took that drive to an absurd level here. Seemingly more than just masochism or showmanship, you can tell those months of Russian morality and nicotine gave Bale plenty of angst to stew in.
At some point, he figured out how to turn a hopelessly thin, impossibly sleep-deprived obsessive-compulsive -- haunted by personal demons that might be real or imaginary -- into a character relatively normal people can relate to.
In doing so, he also saved The Machinist from running the tired course of most psychological thrillers. Aren't they all about figuring out if your personal demons are real or imagined?
The key, I think, is the breadth of emotion he reaches, which is vast and painfully tangible. At work and most other places, Bale's Reznik is overcome with paranoia, as though his past is a cauldron always about to bubble over. His emaciated features are confused, accusatory and unbelievably expressive.
As he makes his way through safe, superficial small talk and cornball jokes with a waitress he barely knows, Bale's eyes are watery but sharp. He's soaking up the attention he gets, rejoicing in the ease of human contact without context.
Later, as we realize that these coffee trips are more significant than they seem, Bale's starvation and brooding pays off, as he ties together all the ends of a fairly loose screenplay with the brute force of his emotion.
Watching Christian Bale in The Machinist proves one schoolyard truth -- at least in the case of paranoid, OCD chain smokers so preoccupied with their own inner lives that they starve themselves, alienate everyone around them and go nearly insane: It takes one to know one.