Tag Archives: method

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #23 – CHRISTIAN BALE

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #23 – CHRISTIAN BALE

“Essentially, I’m untrained, so I just go with my imagination and try to put myself as solidly as I can into the shoes of whatever person I’m going to be playing.” Christian Bale


It’s easy to forget that Christian Charles Philip Bale was only thirteen years old when he was chosen out of thousands of young actors for a starring role in Steven Spielberg’s war drama, Empire of the Sun (1987). From there on in he has become one of the most formidable actors of a generation. Unlike many young actors he has not fallen by the wayside, but rather delivered a series of tour-de-force and award-winning performances in both independent and big budget Hollywood blockbusters.

So, for my occasional look at the major talents of cinema I have turned to one of the greatest actors of the last twenty-something years, and chosen five of his best roles to illustrate that. An intense and natural talent he has been in many outstanding films and some not so good. However, whatever role Christian Bale chooses he is usually never less than powerfully magnetic. I must say, I have not selected any of his portrayals of Bruce Wayne and that very fine Batman performance, notably from a physical perspective. Even though in, Batman Begins (2005), he created a stirring existential vision of a wealthy child growing out of grief into the dark saviour of Gotham City. I just think he has given five better acting transformations on screen. Here they are.

***CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***



AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)

Having tread water in a career-sense attempting to traverse the difficult bridge from child actor to the leading man we have come to know, Christian Bale got a break in Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s notorious novel, American Psycho. And boy – did he make the most of it! I watched the film again recently and I have to say, other than perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio (who was originally cast in the role), no other actor could have delivered such an unhinged, evil and funny (yes he’s hilarious) portrayal of the Wall Street banker-turned-serial killer, Patrick Bateman. It’s a dangerous and sick character who Bale somehow manages to make you despise, yet simultaneously humanise.



THE MACHINIST (2004)

Possibly the greatest Christian Bale performance that hardly anyone has seen. Oh you have seen it? Wow, what an intense performance Bale gives as lonely blue collar worker, Trevor Reznik. Reznik is a haunted man who cannot sleep. He is also anorexic as Bale reduced his weight to 62kg for the role, demonstrating, not for the last time, a dangerous method of obsessive physical transformation. It works too as the skeletal Reznik struggles to overcome a slow descent into madness, with Bale, once again, showing incredible commitment to his craft in this under-rated and haunting noir nightmare of a film.



THE FIGHTER (2010)

While Mark Wahlberg was excellent as the lead actor in David O. Russell’s profile of tough Massachusetts fighter, Micky Ward, Bale absolutely steals the thunder with an incredible acting performance as Ward’s half-brother, Dicky Eklund. As a study of the nefarious curse of addiction, Bale makes the charismatic, but unreliable, Ekland both a loathsome and somehow empathetic character. Because while his crack cocaine addiction drives him to make bad choices for both him and his brother, there is at his heart a loving person battling to win over his illness and make his brother a champion. A story about family and human beings overcoming the odds, Bale punches out another memorably flawed individual in The Fighter (2010), deservedly winning an Oscar in the process.



HOSTILES (2017)

This revisionist Western did not get nearly enough attention on release. Yet buried in here is another quietly intense acting performance from Christian Bale. His other Western, 3:10 to Yuma (2007) is the more entertaining film, but in Hostiles (2017), he gives a much more complex characterisation as Captain Joseph Blocker. The weight of guilt and pain and death hang heavy on Blocker following years of brutal conflict. Scott Cooper’s film conveys the depressing murderous times borne out of the greedy need for progress. Hatred and white man’s guilt drives his character as Bale’s soldier initially refuses to take Chief Yellow Hawk back to his homeland. Is it more because of the deaths of his own men on the battlefield or because he does not want to face up to his own crimes against the Native Americans? The film explores this question superbly with Bale at the heart of the conflict from savage beginning to bloody end.



VICE (2018)

While I agree with critics of Vice (2018), that it is cartoonish and simplistic, it is also a brilliant and scabrous work of satire. Yes, sure it’s preaching to the liberal and left-winged Hollywood choir, but it definitely presents a fascinating snapshot of Dick Cheney’s rise from alcoholic wastrel to powerful political figure. I mean let’s face it, Cheney, based on his reign in U.S. politics, is arguably one of the most dangerous men who ever existed. In Adam Mckay’s black political comedy Cheney is shown to be a manipulative puppet-master to Bush’s marionette President. McKay’s film, while certainly one-tracked, powers along picking apart one of the most shadowy political figures of recent years. But what about, Bale? Why take a role where he had to live on doughnuts for year to gain the weight required for the film? Well, because he likes to challenge himself and Bale should have won the Best acting Oscar! Rami Malek was decent as Freddie Mercury, but Christian Bale is astonishing. Fair enough, he takes a real person and delivers an emulation performance, but he also brings to Cheney to life with such intelligent style. Of course, the physical transformation takes the headlines, but in terms of emotion and mentality he really raises the bar. Cheney may be an enigmatic character but Bale brings menace, whispers and evil to the role. There is also a sly humour there too which makes Bale’s Cheney another unforgettable monster he’s brought to the screen.


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6: ROBERT DENIRO

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6:  ROBERT DENIRO

“If you don’t know Robert DeNiro – he used to be an actor.” Doug Stanhope

In a recent stand-up special Beer Hall Putsch drunken, irreverent funny man Doug Stanhope does an extended routine about Jake La Motta. During the hilarious piece he refers to Raging Bull and more specifically Robert DeNiro. As the above quote suggests DeNiro’s career in the last few years has been more akin to that of a jobbing journeyman with the occasional flash of former genius thrown in.

With forgettable roles in Grudge Match (2013), Killer Elite (2011), Showtime (2002) and many more, his C.V. reads like something Steven Seagal would be hard-pushed to be proud of. He has, it seems recently, aside from a few David O. Russell films, been picking acting roles based on scheduling and a pay-cheque rather than their artistic merits. But hey who am I to worry about a man making a few quid; we all have to pay the rent!

Yet, from a craft perspective it is worth remembering DeNiro appeared in films by some of the great directors such as: Scorcese, Bertolucci, DePalma, Mann, Tarantino and Coppola. At one stage he was the greatest ever living actor and here are SIX roles to remind us of that. It was a tough choice but these are my FAVOURITE performances of, perhaps THE finest actor of a generation.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

MEAN STREETS (1973)

Harvey Keitel is the lead character, Charlie, in this classic-early-Scorcese-urban-street-epic, but DeNiro steals every scene as the ducker-and-diver Johnny Boy. It’s a funny and violent performance containing that trademark grin, verbal dexterity and cool intensity which would become hallmarks of the young Italian’s subsequent performances. His Johnny Boy is flighty and unreliable compared to Keitel’s solid gangster-wannabe and their scenes together are a particular joy as Johnny Boy drives Charlie mad with his irresponsible nature.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Isolation and slow psychosis have never been so compelling in DeNiro’s portrayal of lonely anti-hero Travis Bickle. Schrader, Scorcese and DeNiro were young, edgy artists who delivered a character study which found Vietnam veteran, Bickle, trying to stay sane on the bleak, venal streets of New York. DeNiro bleeds desperation and desire for love and hope. Bickle so desperately tries to fit in with society and do right by people but he’s just too wired to achieve this socially. However, via mania and violence he finds redemption and the acknowledgement of the humanity he so desperately craves.

RAGING BULL (1980)

In terms of marrying both a physical and psychologically formidable performance then THIS is probably DeNiro’s finest role. Obviously he’s famous for putting on a shedload of weight for prize-fighting role of Jake La Motta, however, it’s not a gimmick to sell a film. No, the weight gain is part of the character’s arc as he moves from prime physical masculinity and deteriorates to a fat, useless mess of a man who has pushed all his loved ones away due to mounting paranoia and self-loathing. DeNiro designs a character who hates himself and others and whose ability to suck up punishment and pain is a boon to his boxing ability but detrimental to his sanity. In this performance DeNiro proves there is most certainly method in the madness; a stunning film for which the Italian deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar!

KING OF COMEDY (1983)

In this stunning, dark comedy of embarrassment DeNiro is the deluded stand-up comedian who is SO desperate to get a break he kidnaps a leading chat show host portrayed by the wonderfully jaded Jerry Lewis. DeNiro is brilliant at all forms of madness whether it be: psychos, paranoiacs or the obsessively maladjusted such as hapless Pupkin. I can identify with the character though as he is just so desperate to gain fame his persistence, if not his methods, are actually something to be admired. Not known for his comic roles generally, DeNiro is fantastically funny with his skippy walk, bad dress sense, ticks, delivery and imaginary conversations with the celebrities he so badly longs to work aside. You know what too: his stand-up comedy isn’t actually that bad either. Overall, stalking and obsession have never been so funny or painful.

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)

What! No Godfather II! No Deerhunter (1978)! No Heat (1995)! And no Casino (1995). Not trying to be contrary but I love this film. It is a rollicking road movie and concerns ulcerated bail-bondsmen, Jack Walsh (DeNiro), who must take a fastidious accountant (Grodin) on a “midnight run” to ensure he testifies against a violent gang boss (Dennis Farina). Obviously, as this is a buddy movie the two “opposite” characters bicker and fight over the course of the story but eventually settle their differences and find a common bond. The pace never lets up as the two “rivals” use every form of transport possible to get across country and it was great to see DeNiro in a less serious role cutting loose with a witty and zinging script.  DeNiro brings a world weary pain and cynical humour to a great genre character film.

GOODFELLAS (1990)

As far back as I can remember this has always been my favourite gangster film. Scorcese, Pileggi, Pesci, Liotta and DeNiro were all on fire here in this epic ensemble character story focussing on the rags-to-riches-to-rags-again-narrative of mobster Henry Hill. Yes, Liotta is the lead and Pesci won the Oscar but DeNiro steals pretty much all his scenes as Jimmy “The Gent” Conway. His characterisation is of a charming man who is in fact a bloodthirsty yet charismatic career criminal. DeNiro’s arc shows a man graduating from lorry-jacks to masterminding one of the biggest robberies ever in American history before descending into paranoia and an aging gangster always looking over his shoulder.

DeNiro would give other commanding or at least interesting performances later in his career, for example: Cape Fear (1991), Casino (1995), Heat (1995), Everybody’s Fine (2009), Jackie Brown (1997) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) but his CV since Goodfellas is, if I’m honest, very patchy. So let us not forget that he has provided some of the most memorable celluloid performances ever. Yes! I’m talking to you!