Although he technically began acting as a child, it took a relatively long time for Christian Bale to catch the attention of a wide audience. Although he slowly but surely earned viewers’ attention in films like Little Women and American Psycho, it wasn’t until he appeared as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that Bale became a superstar.
While his performances in these movies are strong, they only offer a limited window into Bale’s talents. Other films he’s made in recent years remind viewers that he is more than just an action star; he’s a genuinely skilled performer who can convincingly inhabit a wide range of characters. The following three films exemplify some of the skills he didn’t always get a chance to share when playing a superhero.
3:10 to Yuma
Released in 2007, 3:10 to Yuma is a remake of the classic western of the same name. In it, Bale plays a desperate farmer who must escort an outlaw (played by Russell Crowe) to a train station, where he’ll be placed on a train to prison. Along the way, Bale’s character and those helping him are attacked by outlaws who are loyal to Crowe’s character.
This could have been a fairly standard western, but Bale gives the character (and the entire story) more depth. In the film, his character’s son is at a turning point in his life. He’s old enough to be ambitious, old enough to understand his family is in a desperate situation, but also young enough to be seduced by the outlaw lifestyle. Thus, Bale’s mission isn’t just to get Crowe on the train to Yuma. He must prove to his son that crime does not pay. The boy’s very future is at stake.
Luckily, the script never outright states this moral. Instead, the filmmakers depend on Bale to bring this quality to the performance naturally. That’s no easy feat, but he accomplishes it, giving the film true thematic weight.
Ideal casting is often dynamic casting. If there are two main characters in a film, one of whom is relatively quiet and low energy, it helps to pair him or her with someone who is more energetic and lively.
That’s one of the main reasons Bale’s performance in The Fighter is so effective. Mark Wahlberg plays the character of Micky Ward with subtlety, and for good reason. His character is controlled by many outside forces and doesn’t seem able to make independent decisions.
Bale’s character, on the other hand, has spun out of control due to his addiction. He represents a different type of character than Wahlberg’s. More importantly, he represents what Wahlberg’s character could become if he doesn’t seize his opportunity for greatness.
This is one of the strongest types of performances an actor can deliver. Performances don’t exist in a vacuum. Actors must complement one another. By bringing an energy to his character that is completely at odds with Wahlberg’s, Bale actually enhances Wahlberg’s performance. That’s a generous kind of acting that isn’t easy to pull off.
Out of the Furnace
Bale may have made a name for himself as Batman, but no one would ever make the mistake of calling his performance authentic. Batman is an archetype, not a real person. There’s no such thing as an authentically human performance when you’re playing the kind of figure that doesn’t authentically exist.
Playing someone who feels like a real person is very difficult, of course. This is especially the case if the film isn’t based on a true story. Viewers may accept a character as real if they are inspired by a real person. Convincing viewers a character is a genuinely real person if they’re the product of a writer’s imagination, on the other hand, is a challenge. This challenge is even greater when the character is thrust into situations most people will never encounter.
And yet, in Out of the Furnace, Bale is able to convince the audience that he truly is an out-of-work former steel mill employee who decides to take matters into his own hands when a gang of criminals kills his brother. He conveys the genuine rage and sadness many rust belt residents feel, instead of coming across as an out-of-touch Hollywood performer. By the end of the movie, audiences feel like they’ve met a real person. They also feel like they’ve seen something beyond the average thriller.
None of this is to say that Bale’s performances in roles like Batman are unimportant. It’s simply worthwhile to spend some time exploring an actor’s full range of talents. Doing so makes it even easier to appreciate an actor’s skill. Thus, anyone who wants to find out why Bale is regarded as one of today’s top stars should watch these films. They showcase his talents in ways audiences don’t always see.