Bale stars as factory worker (obviously) Trevor Reznick, who spends his free time drinking coffee, eating pie, and having sex with a prostitute (played in classic "But I have a heart of gold!" fashion by Jennifer Jason Leigh). The one thing he doesn't do is sleep, claiming it has been a full year since he last slept. I know that I get pretty loopy when I haven't slept for a good 18 hours or so, so I can't really imagine what a year would be like.
Anderson must have a much better imagination than I do, because his vision of what a year without sleep could lead to is dark and fascinating. As Trevor begins to wonder about the places and people around him - including an ominous bald dude named Ivan - we can see the man slip further and further into confusion. Bale deserves nothing but praise for the performance - devoting himself to the role so much that he lost an incredible amount of weight to appear sufficiently worn out - and the range of emotion he shows as Trevor is as good as anything the actor has done in the big budget films that would make up the rest of his career.
You can't really talk about the plot of The Machinist without getting too spoilery - like I said, this kind of film doesn't have the most original concept when you get down to execution - but Anderson keeps it feeling clean and interesting throughout. A wonderful musical score by Spanish composer Roque Banos is sufficiently Hitchcockian, and there's a definite parallel that can be made between this film and Vertigo at times. The Machinist is almost voyeuristic as it shows Trevor learning more about Trevor, and seeing the story develop feels perfectly macabre.
The Machinist is as good as advertised because the director and the star knew how to turn a simple story into something that feels like a feature length episode of The Twilight Zone. If you're up for a late night mind-bender with production values through the roof and dynamic performances, The Machinist should not let you down.