Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands. We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today. We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work. (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).
It’s hard to believe, but Christian Bale’s career as an actor has already lasted 28 years. Bale, who’s only 40, started in 1986 in a TV movie about Anastasia. 28 years and he already at 40 has a body of work that most actors would be satisfied with for a career. Bale’s not satisfied though. He has a hunger to act; to inhabit another persona that surpasses any actor I’ve seen in the modern era. I don’t think this guy is ever going to be done. I think he’ll act from cradle to grave.
Bale’s child actor years are most notably marked by his starring in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 Empire of the Sun with John Malkovich. While the film is badly paced and extremely flawed, Bale is easily the best thing in it. What an opportunity, too, to have Spielberg in his prime be your first director on a major film. Also, spending that much time with Malkovich probably explains why American Psycho ever happened, but we’ll get there.
The other big event of Bale’s childhood years was starring in Disney’s 1992 musical Newsies with Ann Margaret, Robert Duval, Bill Pullman and others. Bale has a full length solo if you want to hear Batman belt. The musical was a complete flop until quite recently when it’s taken Broadway by storm, so Bale can say he was there in the beginning.
Newsies came out, as we said, in 1992. Bale spent the next eight years in mostly forgettable films, though he was in the excellent modern adaptation of Little Women with Susan Sarandon, but mostly it was films like Swing Kids, Royal Deceit, Velvet Goldmine, etc. Then in 2000, Bale ran naked down a hall carrying a chainsaw and things have pretty much been moving right along ever since.
American Psycho….is a disturbing film. It’s the first time you really see Bale submerge into a character to the extent he would in later years and the result is frightening. Patrick Bateman is meticulous, calculating, narcissistic, oh and a really prolific serial killer. It’s hard to recommend AP to anyone because it is some messed up stuff, but in terms of Bale’s career; this is the pivot point. This is when he went from being just an actor to someone to be taken seriously. That mental image of the chainsaw is going to haunt me for life.
In 2002, Bale did two science fiction films that have found cult followings on home video: Equillibrium and Reign of Fire. Equillibrium…probably should have sued the Wachowskis over the Matrix. It’s more than a little similar. It’s not a great movie, but it has some spectacular fight scenes that a worth YouTubing. (Fun fact, Bale’s character has the third highest body count of any character in movie history-talking individual kills-118 exactly HALF of all the deaths in the film). Reign of Fire has Bale and Matthew McConaughey (all right, all right) fighting dragons in a Mad Max wasteland. WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE ABOUT THAT?
In 2004 (after having spent all of 2003 preparing for the role), Bale took the part of Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. Bale has three times in his career undergone a massive body transition for a role in a relatively short period of time (something I hope he knocks off or he’s going to kill himself). For the Machinist, Bale lost 63 pounds by eating pretty much nothing but apples and drinking tons of coffee. It was during this time that he was cast as Batman by Chris Nolan for Batman Begins, but Nolan had seen him at the beginning of the diet. When he saw him next, he freaked out and nearly recast him because he didn’t believe anyone could put muscle mass back on the skeletal frame Bale was inhabiting in time for the shoot. Bale said no problems. Bale calming Nolan down probably saved us from a Jake Gyllenhaal Batman (the runner-up for the part).
Bale started literally at skin and bones level and put together a body worthy of a Dark Knight-in training. In six months, he went from 130 to 230. ONE HUNDRED POUNDS! In fact, he decided he didn’t like Batman at 230 and dropped it down 40 pounds before filming began. How his heart didn’t just blow up like a melon strapped to a grenade is beyond me.
Bale will always be defined, to a certain extent, by Batman. He should be. Tom Hanks is defined by Forrest Gump. Clint Eastwood by Dirty Harry. These aren’t bad things when the icon you redefine is done with such quality that you become a shadow looming over all Afflecks who may try to follow your act. Batman has been around now for 80 years. To become THE definitive Batman is an honor. It’s an achievement given how pervasive that character is in American culture. Bale committed to Bruce and Bats exactly the same way he did Patrick Bateman (I don’t think he’s as good a Batman with out playing Bateman). He took on the mantle and, as a longtime fan and expert on the character, he is to my mind the definitive live-action interpretation of Bob Kane and Bill FInger’s creation.
The Dark Knight Trilogy, as I discussed in Gary Oldman’s profile, is my perfect Batman story. It is as close to perfection in a Batman series that I ever expect to see. Batman is a character open to many interpretations, Nolan brilliantly made each film distinct and iconic. Batman Begins is very much the classic super hero story in the mold of Richard Donner’s Superman. The Dark Knight, probably the second best film of the decade, is a crime drama first and foremost; very reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat. The Dark Knight Rises is a disaster/war film pulling from a number of films from the genre, but that film (the most divisive to the extent any are) forges new territory while also using the classic trope of “just one more job”. I’m personally indebted to Bale for the time and preparation; dedication and focus he put into creating this perfect rendering of my hero and it’s going to take something special beyond words to top Batman beating the Joker senseless screaming WHERE ARE THEY!?!?!….and the thousand other moments that made The Dark Knight Trilogy arguably one of, if not the, best franchise ever.
Bale kept busy in-between the Dark Knight films, turning out two other films I’d rate 10’s. 3:10 to Yuma gets no appreciation, but it’s the best modern western behind Unforgiven. Bale’s ranch hand isn’t the glamorous role, but watching he and Crowe battle wits and trade blows up to the spectacular finale is the genre at it’s very best.
The Prestige gets talked about perhaps less than any of the great Nolan films, but it is a miracle of dark magic, perfectly shot by Wally Pfister. Bale plays one of two rival magicians determined to outdo one another until their rivalry turns tragic beyond imagination. Bale is again submerged into not one but two characters in the film so well that I had no clue he was another character until the very end.
In-between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Bale didn’t had the luck of the first hiatus. His John Connor in Terminator Salvation was an odd lazy turn from Bale, who also got a ton of negative press when a recording of him berating a camera man leaked on the web.
Public Enemies should have been one of the best pictures of all time. It had the cast. It had the director. It had the material. It was just plain boring and I’ll never understand how they could take Bryan Burrough’s masterful book and butcher it like that.
Redemption did come along with Bale’s first Oscar when he teamed with David O. Russell to make The Fighter. Russell’s films never really connect with me, but I leave just entranced by the performances he gets out of actors. Bale submerged again into the role of Dicky Eklund, a junkie ex-fighter unconsciously sabotaging any chance his brother has at a final title shot. He’s incendiary and pathetic by turns and his win was truly justified.
Bale recently teamed again with Russell and gained a ton of weight for what should have been his second Oscar win in American Hustle. For a full analysis of that film and Out of the Furnace, which followed it, click on the titles for my full reviews.
Let’s check out Bale’s last 10 film’s and get his Latest score:
BALE’S LATEST TEN:
1. American Hustle (2013)………………….8.50
2. Out of the Furnace (2013)………………6.75
3. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)………10.00
4. The Flowers of War (2011)…………….6.00
5. The Fighter (2010)……………………………7.75
6. Public Enemies (2009)……………………..5.25
7. Terminator: Salvation (2009)…………4.75
8. The Dark Knight (2008)…………………10.00
9. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)……………………….10.00
10. I’m Not There (2007)……………………..2.25
BALE’S CURRENT AVERAGE: 7.125
Terminator and the soon-to-drop-off I’m not There keep this score down, but I would expect it to be much higher a year from now.
BALE ‘S GREATEST TEN
1. The Dark Knight (2008)…………………………10.00
2. Batman Begins (2005)……………………………10.00
3. The Prestige (2006)………………………………..10.00
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)………………10.00
5. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)……………………………….10.00
6. American Hustle (2013)……………………………8.50
7. Empire of the Sun (1987)………………………….8.00
8. The Fighter (2010)……………………………………..8.00
9. Little Women (1994)………………………………….7.50
10. Henry V (1989)…………………………………………7.50
BALE’S GREATEST AVERAGE: 8.950
Bale’s ambition for huge parts that require full immersion continues this year as he teams with Ridley Scott to play Moses in Exodus. He’s also slated to join the cast of Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups with Cate Blanchett and Michael Fassbender. 28 years into a career that may stretch far over 28 more, Bale is already an icon. His career from here is about establishing his legacy and his place in the hiearchy of the greatest actors of our age.