There's committing to a role, and then there's committing to a role. To play tormented, sleep-deprived factory worker Trevor Reznik, Christian Bale -- normally 6'2'', 180 pounds -- got down to a ghastly 120 pounds. ''I just didn't eat,'' says the actor, who completed the transformation by sleeping as little as two hours a night. ''It becomes easier as your stomach shrinks. You break every [action] down to what is essential because you just do not have the energy to do anything that isn't.''
Described by director Brad Anderson as a ''paranoid psychological thriller'' about ''a guy battling his guilty conscience,'' ''The Machinist,'' which debuted at this year's Sundance festival, takes place in a dark, decaying metropolis that echoes Trevor's horrific mental and physical state. ''We tried to create an unidentifiable West Coast city,'' says Anderson, whose previous effort, 2001's insane-asylum thriller ''Session 9,'' was also an exercise in creepiness. ''So the film has this weird, timeless, placeless quality to it.'' (Ironically, for financial reasons, the $5 million movie was shot in the dead of summer in sun-drenched Barcelona.)
Long since back to his normal eating and sleeping patterns -- not to mention his buff ''Batman Begins'' bod -- Bale is thrilled with the end result. It's a ''very atmospheric and mesmerizing movie,'' he says. ''And I'm so proud. There were absolutely no concessions made for the sake of a wider audience. We made the movie we all wanted to make.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE Anderson's been on the verge of crossing over from cult-indieville since 1998's ''Next Stop Wonderland.'' But without that ''wider audience,'' ''The Machinist'' may not be his ticket.