The Infernal Machine review | Guy Pearce delivers a committed performance

Guy Pearce stars as author Bruce Cogburn who is plagued by an obsessive fan in The Infernal Machine. Read our review. 

the infernal machine bruce cogburn


There are some actors who are just always a welcome addition to any film. Whether they’re leading or supporting, you’re just mainly happy to see them again. Guy Pearce is one of these and he is the star of The Infernal Machine, a frustratingly uneven mystery from director Andrew Hunt. 

Pearce plays Bruce Cogburn, a reclusive author who once penned a successful book, titled The Infernal Machine. Unfortunately, that book has ties to a terrible, terrible tragedy which has made Cogburn an alcoholic and uninterested in any further human contact. He is quick to grab his rifle to defend himself against anyone who might step foot on his property. 

So you can imagine our protagonist isn’t happy when a fan starts bombarding him with letters, but he has very helpfully given Cogburn a contact number too. Cogburn more or less politely declines to connect with the fan through his voicemail, but the letters don’t stop. 

the infernal machine guy pearce

Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Infernal Machine is a difficult film to review, because so much of the fun is watching the narrative unfold. The central mystery and the many details of it are surprisingly juicy, if not all that original once everything is revealed. In fact, for the first two acts, The Infernal Machine is close to being excellent, but its finale goes so spectacularly off the rails that it’s hard to remember the good things that happened before it. 

Pearce is genuinely excellent. The role of Cogburn might be his finest and most detailed work in years. For no reason whatsoever, Pearce gives Cogburn a slightly Northern English accent and although it’s never explained or discussed, Pearce pulls it off so well that it successfully gives the character some history. 

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Alex Pettyfer is given very little screen time in a role that is best left unrevealed, but he makes the most of it. The Magic Mike and Endless Love star plays against type here and does very well, surprisingly well. It’s a difficult role, but Pettyfer finds the right balance of gravitas and physicality to pull it off. 

Less well served by the script are Alice Eve as a friendly police officer and Jeremy Davies as a student from Cogburn’s past. Eve’s character feels more like a caricature than a real human and Davies over-does his small part by a mile. 

the infernal machine alice eve

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Hunt tells the story well and it moves at a robust pace, but is still stretched at nearly two hours. The clunky, clichéd script constantly threatens to bring the film down, but Pearce keeps it afloat with his committed performance. 

And then there’s the ending. The Infernal Machine, at its best, feels like a screw tightening as Cogburn dives deeper into the mystery surrounding him. And then that screw is yeeted out the window completely as we arrive at the daft, silly ending. Everything about the ending feels like a cop out, an easy way out of what was genuinely a great story. 

The Infernal Machine turns unintentionally funny when a character says the line “No one gives a damn about an inspired second act, if your finale is a big pile of shit.” And sir, I could not have said it better myself, that sentence sums up the entire experience of watching The Infernal Machine. This is a two-star film that gets an extra star for the commitment by Pearce. 

The Infernal Machine is in cinemas now. 

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