Five Essential… Christian Bale Films

Chris Cooper presents his five essential Christian Bale films…

Some people don’t like Christian Bale. They heard his rant at Shane Hurlbut on the set of Terminator Salvation and decided that he was a nutter who lacked respect. Or they don’t like his gravelly ‘Batman voice’.

I am not one of these people.

I see a committed and brilliant actor who started young but had to wait to make it big. Sure he has had some missteps along the way (Shaft? Reign of Fire?), but everyone has bills to pay!

So onto the list we go. Here are 5 films I personally feel are essential if you’re either a fan of the man, or want to see what the fuss is about. I’ve also mentioned a few films that whilst not making it onto the top 5, are highly recommended:

5. 3:10 to Yuma (2007, dir. James Mangold)

Many people will think this shouldn’t be here, and that I should be picking The Machinist or The Prestige, but it’s my list! So here we are. Bale plays Dan Evans, an ex-civil was solider and rancher who just can’t seem to catch a break. When the opportunity to earn $200 for delivering Russell Crowe’s Ben Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma and justice presents itself, he accepts it. Dan however, isn’t doing it for the money. The action is good, but this film is elevated by Bale, Crowe and Foster (Wade’s second in command, and a real nasty piece of work), who all bring quality performances to the table.

“I’m tired of the way that they look at me. I’m tired of the way that you don’t.”

4. The Fighter (2010, dir. David O. Russell)

The film that won him an Oscar, Bale lost a lot of weight (not for the first time), and transforms himself into the ex-boxer Dick Eklund; a man who went from the highs of fighting Sugar Ray Leonard, to the lows of heroin addiction. You can see that most of the time he means well, and he clearly loves his Brother, though how he goes about it is rarely appropriate. His motivational speech to Micky when the outcome of his title fight is looking bleak is both heart-warming and inspiring. Bale makes you believe that he is someone who has hit the heights, only to fall hard. A worthy Academy Award winning role.

“This is your time, all right? You take it. I had my time and I blew it. You don’t have to. Alright?”

3. Equilibrium (2002, dir. Kurt Wimmer)

Very much a cult film and one that has been derided by many, with many critics writing it off and the box office receipts matching. That’s a shame as personally I think that if you can buy into the nonsense early on it’s an entertaining look at a future where emotions are controlled using drugs. With 118 on screen kills using the really quite barmy ‘gun-kata’, he certainly doesn’t mess about, and you’ve never seen pistol whipping like this before. Plus, how many other films can you think of where a man betrays the system he serves and helps instigate a revolution over a spilt vial and a puppy?

“If I was gonna shoot you, I’d shoot you in the face. Now go.”

2. American Psycho (2000, dir. Mary Harron)

This film is very special to me. It was the first time I had seen Bale, and upon it finishing, I proclaimed “That Bale bloke would be a cracking Bruce Wayne”. I’d just like to say… called it!

The film is darkly hilarious throughout, and Bale perfectly captures the 80’s style, along with the distance from his co-workers, girlfriend and ‘friends’. The way he turns when talking to a homeless person and his dog, from friendly and helpful to abusive and murderess is morbidly brilliant. Add this to the commitment shown to achieve the Olympian physique that Bateman maintains, and you have a career defining performance. Just remember… not the face!!

“Do you like Phil Collins?”

1. Batman Begins (2005, dir. Christopher Nolan)

Though many would argue that The Dark Knight is the better film (it changes each day for me), Begins is much more Bale’s film. For the first time, here was a guy I could truly believe was Batman. We move with Bruce, watching him grow and move through various phases. Some people might not want everything explained and fed to them, but it works wonderfully here. We see the moments that change Bruce into the hero we know and love. Bale essentially had to play 4 roles in this film, all to great effect:

Younger Bruce – Naïve and vengeful.

Playboy Bruce – Smarmy, dopey arrogance.

Private Bruce – Brooding and committed.

Batman – Threatening, imposing and heroic.

Two of his best moments don’t even involve words. The anger when confronted with the truth by Ducard, and the hurt when lectured by Rachel are conveyed through expressions that are subtle yet carry great weight. Bale brings his A-game and along with Nolan raises the bar for comic book films.

“SWEAR TO ME!”

Honourable Mentions…

The Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan) – Obviously. Plus I only wanted to put one Batman film in the list.
Empire of the Sun (1987, dir. Steven Spielberg) – Weird seeing a young Bale, but you could tell he was a good actor even then.
The Machinist (2004, dir. Brad Anderson) – Known for his unhealthy weight loss, this is a painful film to watch for the right reasons.
The Prestige (2006, dir. Christopher Nolan) – Bale works really well against Hugh Jackman (Batman and Wolverine nerdgasm!) and it finishes with a large “Why didn’t I see that!” moment. Very clever.

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments…
Chris Cooper

Around the Internet…

  • EileenJ

    Agree with you wholeheartedly on "3:10 To Yuma". This quickly become one of my all-time favorite films. It helps that I'm a huge fan of both Bale and Russell Crowe. And this was the film that made me a fan of Ben Foster as well.

  • Chris C

    Thank you Eileen. It would have been easy to pander to popular/obvious choices. I'm happy for it to promote discussion, though it is ultimately subjective.

  • Maxwell Bialystock

    Treasure Island