Spotlight on the Stars: Christian Bale

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For this week’s brand new spotlight piece (after taking a week off), I wanted to cite an A-lister who is known as one of the most deeply committed actors of his generation. Yes, it’s Christian Bale, an Academy Award winner who just overflows with talent. Once considered an incredibly snubbed actor who never quite captured Oscar’s attention, he’s since moved on to a much more respected part of his career, while also stepping effortlessly between blockbusters and independent fare. At this point, he’s almost a favorite of the voters and a multiple time nominee. As such, he’s someone I’d wanted to shine the spotlight on for some time, I’ve just been waiting for the right moment…

Bale got started briefly as a teenager in television movies, but for most, the first real exposure to him came in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, as well as a few years later in the musical Newsies. Throw in his voice work in the Disney flick Pocahontas and he was making his first bones with what often was family friendly entertainment. That would change in a hurry, but his beginnings were much more mainstream than where he would go from there. He first teased at a more mature future with Velvet Goldmine, but it would be a certain book adaptation that really showed how extreme he could go.

American Psycho is not only one of his more out there roles, it’s also one of his best performances to date. He was able to take author Bret Easton Ellis’ character Patrick Bateman and find the theatrical quality in him. It’s both a gonzo and very restrained performance, which is hard to do. Bale really nailed it, and it got the attention of Hollywood. He would no longer be an up and comer…he’d be a star in the making. Roles in bigger films like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Equilibrium, Laurel Canyon, Reign of Fire, and Shaft followed, though many of those still had that independent spirit he gravitated to.

Bale next wowed people with a physical transformation for his part in The Machinist. He lost a disturbing amount of weight, giving an already strong performance an extra layer of power. It was impossible not to look at him and feel the agony of what the weight loss must have been like, which in turn makes the insomnia that the character is suffering feel all the more troubling. It’s the first time that the actor was really snubbed for awards attention, but it wouldn’t be the last. One great thing did come of it though. He would get to play a superhero, and not just any superhero either…

His portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman has become iconic, starting of course with the franchise reboot Batman Begins. Getting down and dirty with the character, he really changed the way you looked at both sides of the caped crusader coin. Obviously filmmaker Christopher Nolan was the mastermind, but Bale did top notch work in getting that character off the ground again. From there, he appeared in 3:10 to Yuma, Harsh Times, I’m Not There, The New World, The Prestige, and Rescue Dawn (again being snubbed for an Academy Award nomination while losing a ton of weight), always managing to impress along the way.

Bale has really become an A-lister from that point on. There was of course two more Batman outings for Nolan with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (where he upped his game as Wayne/the crime fighter each time), plus Public Enemies and another would be franchise starter in Terminator Salvation. The two Batman films were the highlights of this period, but he was still doing interesting enough work. Little did we know though that another incredibly fruitful creative period was headed our way.

The man would finally get his first Oscar nomination, and wind up winning the Best Supporting Actor prize, for his scene stealing turn in The Fighter. Bale is aces there, delivering a performance that cake walked its way to the Academy stage, and rightly so. It’s powerful and humorous, showing all sides of his talent. Filmmaker David O. Russell helped bring it out of him, but it was clearly already there. Good thing voters took notice, at long last.

Since then, he starred in The Flowers of War, as well as last year’s one-two punch of Russell’s American Hustle and Out of the Furnace. The former got him his second Academy Award nomination, this time in Best Actor. Much like with Nolan, working again with Russell spurred Bale’s creative juices in a big way, resulting in a lower key turn from him than usual, but one full of style at the same time. It’s an underrated performance in a career full of incredible work to pick through.

Last week, he starred in the biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings. Though perhaps not as exciting a choice as he’s been making of late, Bale still brings a screen presence to the part that’s all but demanded when you sign on to play Moses. Even if many have issues with Ridley Scott’s tale, Bale isn’t one of them. As you might notice with some of his less successful projects, he’s never the reason they don’t succeed. He gives it his all each and every single time out.

Overall, Bale is a stunningly talented individual who has the acting world as his oyster. In the coming years he has Knight of Cups (which re-teams him with his The New World director Terrence Malick), as well as The Creed of Violence and Jungle Book: Origins, just to name two. I have no doubt that had he wound up playing Steve Jobs in the biopic that’s being made, he’d have knocked that one out of the park. Bale is far from done with Oscar level work, so I’m sure the Academy is far from through with him. He’s a big time A-lister and one of the best in the business, plain and simple.

Stay tuned for another look at an A-lister next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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