Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie Web Monday: Christian Bale

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Today's actor is probably one of the first that I really started to movie-web consciously. Christian Bale, an infamously great-but-demanding actor, has starred in a whole slew of excellent movies dating back to Empire of the Sun and Henry V in the late 80s, with his mainstream attention ramped up in the past decade after his incomparable realization of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. With Ben Affleck the mildly controversial replacement to don the cowl in the Superman vs Batman movie, it remains to be seen whether that stays Bale's most recognized role.

Not that there aren't tons of great under-exposed roles in his filmography. I don't feature them below, but I also highly recommend Rescue Dawn, where Bale plays an American fighter pilot shot down in Laos during the Vietnam War. It's brutal, raw, and psychologically draining, but an excellent film. Similarly, The Machinist is one of the greatest psychological films of all time, and Bale's star performance is engrossing in its mundane grotesqueness. The film's inspiration is pure Dostoyevsky, with heavy elements of Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, so that comparison will go a long way to informing whether you might enjoy it or not.

Christian Bale: Unsung Underdog

Movie: Terminator Salvation (Own it)

In the first film to finally focus on the actual Machine War, Christian Bale takes up the role of John Connor, hero of humanity and walking target of the franchise. I'd been waiting to see the Machine War realized on the big screen ever since I saw Terminator as a five year-old (heavily censored by my big brother sitting on me during the objectionable bits). I wanted to see the all-out apocalyptic showdown, firefights in the concrete morass of long-nuked cities, and with John Connor orchestrating it all. Bale's John Connor steps into the grim struggle with the right amount of weight and exhaustion throughout his scenes, even though he's not yet the supreme commander of the human resistance. Action hero gunplay and fighting aside, I think it's the bag-eyed weariness, that drawn and haggard leader of men caught in the midst of successively worse decisions, that elevates the film for me. It's encapsulated in the beat before John broadcasts one of his machine-fighting tutorials over the radio:

The person being referred to is Kyle Reese, John Connor's deceased father and future subordinate thanks to the loopy paradox at the core of the franchise. Setting the causal stupidity of time travel plots aside, it's a superb small moment of Bale pulling back the seams of Connor's armor and showing what drives the exhausted resistance leader--the idea that his loved ones are out there, that he has a family that extends beyond his physical reach that he can't see but that he can protect. Coupled with his wife Kate Connor (played by mesmeric Bryce Dallas Howard) and her baby bump, Bale portrays a man in transition to a point where he is not only about to become a father, but that also his prophetic grasp on the future is catching up to him and he will soon be on his own. It's a chilling thought, in a franchise bound by time-traveling take-backs and cause-effect loops, to imagine being on the verge of true uncertainty once more. If only we could get there--but alas, rumor is that the next Terminator movie will return to the time-traveling format again, and almost certainly retconn this film's continuity.

Movie: Newsies (Own it, but gorram if I can ever find it)

This is the first movie I ever saw with Christian Bale in it, and it still gets trotted out for a viewing every  few months. Heck, as a music kid in high school I knew a lot of girls who liked nothing more than associating with guys able to sing "Santa Fe" soulfully, so this movie has made a lot of hay throughout my life. For those of you who don't know, Newsies is a period musical set in New York City at the close of the nineteenth century and follows the rousers of a strike of newsboys against the mongering gigantic newspapers controlling their fate. Christian Bale plays their charismatic leader, Jack Kelly, and accordingly spends much of the Disney flick brooding in a pop-musical style. Which means, unlike his future Batman brooding, there was a lot of dancing alone and smoldering on iron catwalks and fire escapes--okay, maybe that's a little like Batman, after all. The film is really well done and infectiously catchy if you're even remotely susceptible to the genre, and Bale's portrayal of Jack Kelly is a neat compromise of sort of popular pretty boy charm and self-serving gregariousness--something few actors could capture so easily between musical numbers, let alone a teenager, but Bale does it expertly. It plays so well in the moments where Jack squares off against sinister Joseph Pulitzer, played by Robert Duvall, or even in the scenes where the impoverished gnat rails against the corporate giant. One of my favorite examples of this:

In a movie full of great, energetic and upbeat performances in a really fairly dark plot, Bale stands out and carries his scenes like a veteran despite how incredibly early this was in his career. It's also a nice flick to watch to see a very different side of Bale--even his more artsy roles are still just in contrast to his action movie blockbusters, and there's very little to compare to a Disney lighthearted period musical.

Movie: 3:10 to Yuma (Own it. THE SPOILERS SHALL FLOW)

The 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma is one of my absolute favorite films. I mentioned it two years ago as a great Father's Day movie. A relatively cozy (in terms of plot analysis) western about a group of men from a small town trying to escort dangerous robber and gunman Ben Wade to a prison train, it contains great period action, great performances by the lead and supporting actors, and is an insane fatherhood tear-jerker. Christian Bale plays the protagonist Dan Evans, a one-legged rancher and family man on the verge of losing everything who decides to join the impromptu armed escort and try to stay one step ahead of Wade's ruthless gang hunting them. Wade, played by ember-eyed Russell Crowe, alternates between a happy rider and opportunistic murderer as they journey along, and the paradoxical role ends with Wade and Evans having an antagonistic but respectful bond at the end. As the rest of the escorts are killed or scared off, only the hobbled Evans has the courage and stubbornness to stay and try to see things through despite his terrible prospects. There's lots of great moments of ragged beauty in this film, but probably the greatest is the pathetic moment in which Evans explains what truly drives him in his suicidal-but-noble quest:

Oh, the sweet, sweet tragedy of this movie is so beautiful. In this moment, Dan Evans' disarming honesty and wounded nobility finally win Ben over, and in the final run of the two to the train station we see that he's also won over his son, William, making his final, sudden demise so much sadder and at the same time so much more admirable and inspiring. The movie's full of these dry bits of underplayed-but-poignant drama, with Bale the hero of the western without ever really trying too hard. Unique, masterful, and engrossing no matter how many times I man-cry through it.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

No comments:

Post a Comment