The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Christian Bale
Last week, we took a look at the career of master director Spike Lee, one of the most controversial directors of his time. Switching gears, our subject this week makes his living on the other side of the camera, and is known as one of the most committed A-list actors of our generation...
Christian Bale has always been a breed apart as far as actors go. This was apparent right from the get-go, when he was a child actor in films like MIO IN THE LAND OF FARAWAY. His performance in Steven Spielbergís EMPIRE OF THE SUN, made when he was just eleven years old, is a testament to that. Even when he was a teen heartthrob- in the unfortunate NEWSIES and the not-so-bad SWING KIDS- Bale had the goods. By the time he re-emerged as a full-blown leading man with AMERICAN PSYCHO in 2000, it was obvious that Bale was going to be one of the major actors of our generation.
Regardless of the genre heís working in- be it a mammoth movie like BATMAN BEGINS or a smaller film like THE MACHINIST- Bale always brings the same 100% method commitment to the part an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis is celebrated for. If anything, Bale could be accused of going too deep at times, to the detriment of his own health and sanity. Just look at him in THE MACHINIST. Sure, thereís nothing wrong with losing weight for a part, but Bale looks positively skeletal. If you consider that his next film was BATMAN BEGINS, which saw him beef up to 220 pounds, and then quickly drop another twenty pounds upon Christopher Nolanís request to get ďleanerĒ, one canít help but be worried about his health.
Alas, thatís just the kind of actor Bale is. The fact that we have a full-blown star thatís so willing to take himself to extremes for his craft is remarkable, and if anyone Iíve profiled in this column deserves to be called a ďbad-assĒ itís Bale.
This is a tough one. Iím tempted to throw THE MACHINIST in here just for the sake of the physical transformation. Bruce Wayne/Batman would be another obvious choice, as whatever the controversy there is surrounding his Batman growl, it canít be denied heís probably given the best superhero performance of all-time outside of Christopher Reeve in SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE. Christopher Nolan's THE PRESTIGE also deserves some consideration. If you've seen the film, you'll know that Bale has to convey two distinct personalities throughout, and it's a performance that's difficult to fully appreciate unless you've seen it a couple of times. Still, my choice here is AMERICAN PSYCHO. As the psychopathic Patrick Bateman, Bale has to walk a tightrope. On the one hand, Batemanís a disgusting pig of a man, but then again, heís not just playing a straight-up psycho. Rather, the character is more of a grotesque sideshow exaggeration of the worst of eighties yuppie excess, with the greed and callousness being so overwhelming that he becomes a killer just to see if he can get away with it- which he does. In the hands of a less talented actor, AMERICAN PSYCHO would have you reaching for the ďejectĒ button on your DVD player, but Bale makes Bateman both morbidly fascinating AND funny.
Overrated is a word thatís tough to apply to Bale. I donít think heís ever given a performance Iíd actually call ďoverrated.Ē Like Iíve had to do in many other columns here, I think Iím going to have to highlight a work thatís just plain bad rather than overrated. TERMINATOR: SALVATION was a film that was almost universally reviled when it hit theaters. Rather than relaunch the franchise, it pretty much put it out of commission for another half-decade. Baleís presence in such an uninspired cash-grab of a film seems uncharacteristic of him, and itís one of the few ďpaycheckĒ films heís done (letís not forget he turned down truckloads of cash to do another Batman post-Nolan). It was also a film that resulted in a lot of negative press due to his infamous on-set meltdown- which was inexplicably recorded and leaked- although by seeing what a bad movie it ended up being, his frustration is understandable.
Underrated- now THATíS a term thatís better suited to Bale. There are several films on his CV that Iíd call underrated. Among them: 3:10 TO YUMA, HARSH TIMES, RESCUE DAWN, heck- even REIGN OF FIRE. But to me, the most underrated of all is EQUILIBRIUM. This movie never even got a theatrical release, with the Weinsteinís consigning it to the direct-to-DVD bin at Blockbusters everywhere (when there was such a thing). The movie picked up a nice cult-following, and when Bale was announced as Batman, those of us that had seen this knew he was the perfect choice. It was the first movie he did that proved his mettle as an action hero, with his gun-kata fights and physique. Itís not a perfect film, with the blend of dystopian influences not quite meshing all the time. Still, itís a cool little flick. Itís worth noting that I worked at a Blockbuster around the time this came out on DVD. It hit the stores around the same time THE MATRIX RELOADED did. Whenever Iíd get people renting RELOADED, Iíd send them home with this too. 99.9% of the time theyíd come back agreeing that EQUILIBRIUM was way better.
Again, I was tempted to choose something from one of the Batman movies, but I couldnít make up my mind as to what scene really stood apart from the rest of the films. If I had to choose one for Heath Ledger, no problem. For Bale, itís much harder. Thatís not to say heís not as good as Ledger, itís just heís so damn consistent throughout. Rather, Iím going to go with my favorite scene in AMERICAN PSYCHO, where Bateman starts by explaining the finer points of Huey Lewis to Jared Leto, and then flies into a murderous rage. Great stuff.
5. OUT OF THE FURNACE
4. THE PRESTIGE
3. THE FIGHTER
2. AMERICAN PSYCHO
1. THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY
Baleís got a whole slew of movies coming out, with his AMERICAN HUSTLE due to hit theaters in just a few weeks. From the looks of it, itíll be another highlight. Follwing that, heís in THE KNIGHT OF CUPS, a Terrence Malick movie (his second- following THE NEW WORLD) and also teams with Ridley Scott for the biblical epic EXODUS.