Is Bale slacking?

Posted by · 8:42 am · May 7th, 2009

Christian Bale in Terminator SalvationThe first evaluations of “Terminator Salvation” are slowly creeping in (here’s AICN’s reasonably positive take if you’re interested), but I was more interested in something the Film Experience’s Nathaniel Rogers had to say about Christian Bale’s performance, which mirrors a grievance I’ve had with the actor’s work of late.

Rogers likes the film well enough, but finds Bale’s contribution distinctly lacking:

I am happy to report that unless Christian Bale’s eyes are particularly sensitive to bleached colors and shadowy sets, Shane Hurlbut’s lensing didn’t intrude on his thespian process at all. But Bale intruded on Bale’s thespian process.

I liked Salvation a lot more than this next statement will imply but… John Connor was a dud. [editor’s note: Isn’t he always?] Christian Bale bored me silly. He used to be a thrilling and unpredictable actor. Now I feel like I’m seeing the same performance over and over again. It’s like he’s lipsynching to his own Arias of Intensity.

I couldn’t agree more. Admittedly, I’ve never quite learned to love Bale — his most impressive performances (“The Machinist,” “American Psycho”) have a mannered quality that keeps me at arm’s length, while he has an unfortunate tendency to get outshone in talent-laden ensemble pieces (“Laurel Canyon,” “I’m Not There,” even “The Dark Knight”) — but he’s an undeniably accomplished and courageous actor.

So it’s disappointing to see him applying the same shade of opaque intensity to one impenetrable hero after another recently. Here’s hoping he finds more notes to play in “Public Enemies.”

→ 25 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

25 responses so far

  • 1 5-07-2009 at 9:07 am

    Speaking English said...

    You don’t mention his most impressive performance, however: “Empire of the Sun.”

  • 2 5-07-2009 at 9:07 am

    McGuff said...

    “his most impressive performances (”The Machinist,” “American Psycho”) have a mannered quality that keeps me at arm’s length, while he has an unfortunate tendency to get outshone in talent-laden ensemble pieces (”Laurel Canyon,” “I’m Not There,” even “The Dark Knight”) ”

    Clearly, Guy, you’ve never seen “Newsies”.

  • 3 5-07-2009 at 9:08 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    American Physco was a great performance, but bale is certainly not the reason The Dark Knight was great

  • 4 5-07-2009 at 9:42 am

    BurmaShave said...

    Any discussion of his best work needs to include RESCUE DAWN. Mesmerizing in that. He’d be smart to work with Herzog again.

  • 5 5-07-2009 at 10:02 am

    P-Dawg said...

    RESCUE DAWN should’ve been called RESCUE YAWN. The only thing mesmerizing was how utterly mediocre it was, all the way up to its freeze-frame ending. I think Bale is decent in most everything he’s been in but I agree that he’s often out performed by co-stars. Perhaps it’s due to the chiseled tough guy roles he’s grown accustomed to playing. Bruce Wayne aside, his hard-ass characters in movies like Equilibrium and even Reign of Fire are a little ridiculous (but so were those movies). I don’t think he’s a bad actor but I do think that he has a lot more talent than he’s been showing lately.

  • 6 5-07-2009 at 10:16 am

    BobMcBob said...

    don’t bash Bale and the film prematurely

  • 7 5-07-2009 at 10:27 am

    Bernardo said...

    He was just brilliant in “American Psycho”. And a great movie too. At that time he should been nominated for something…

  • 8 5-07-2009 at 10:52 am

    Marlowe said...

    I’m sorry, but with some exceptions (mostly the two you mentioned), I always found Bale wooden as hell. That was what disgusted me most about the Hurlbut incident: Bale was accusing the poor schmuck of distracting him, like he’s Marlon Brando or somebody when he’s in the zone. I can already tell he’s going to be the weak link of Public Enemies, which I’m looking tremendously forward to otherwise, since from the trailers he appears to be doing the same “Buster Keaton as action hero” performance, with only a bad South Carolinian accent to distinguish it.
    Okay, end rant.

  • 9 5-07-2009 at 10:56 am

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Kind of a stupid headline, Guy. To explain:

    I just don’t understand the anti-Bale sentiment going on right now. Yes, I, too, would like to see him do, say, a Grosse Point Blank -like movie which would certainly be a change of pace for Mr. Bale, but it’s not like he’s been in a terrible movie or downright flop in a long time.

    In between Begins and Knight, he did The New World, Rescue Dawn, I’m Not There, The Prestige and 3:10…Not exactly slacking there, Guy. All varied roles, all very different STORIES. If you don’t like any of those films, then fine, but one doesn’t say no to Mallick or bale on Herzog after trying to get the film made after three years. Point is: Bale ain’t slacking. Look at what he’s DONE.

    With regard to Terminator, all I know is that what I’ve seen, I like. He nailed the “I’ll be back” line. He doesn’t scream it.

    You know who’s fucking slacking? Brad Pitt. Bale would have made a much more interesting Ben Button, yet Pitt gets a pass – even an Oscar nom for doing…what?

    It’s also interesting that since his success after Begins, Bale isn’t bringing in his own script doctors on projects and picking main roles – like Russell Crowe. For Christ sakes, he took a supporting role in New World and Public Enemies and the upcoming The Fighter.

    If I find Bale to be a dud in Terminator, I’ll tell ya, but I haven’t seen it, Guy.

  • 10 5-07-2009 at 11:19 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The films are fine. One of them (“I’m Not There”) is even great. But I don’t think it’s enough simply to be in good films; you have to do vivid work in them too. And that’s where I think he’s let himself down a bit recently. Just my take.

    I have high expectations of talented folk.

  • 11 5-07-2009 at 11:27 am

    Mr. Gittes said...

    I’ll concede your point about Bale needing to do “vivid” work. I think that’s right, and I saw that in Rescue Dawn. And if the draft I read is the shooting draft, Bale will churn out something special in The Fighter. Fingers crossed.

    Fantasy here, but Bale needs to grab Alfonso Cuaron and do Monahan’s Tripoli…vivid stuff.

  • 12 5-07-2009 at 11:30 am

    BurmaShave said...

    P-Dawg, I’m going to assume based on your handle that stuff like Herzog is probably not for you. That was funny though, even if I can’t agree.

  • 13 5-07-2009 at 11:38 am

    Bill said...

    Guy, I couldn’t possibly agree more. As soon as I saw the trailer for this film, my immediate reaction was that Bale is getting lazy in his performances. The trailers themselves are exactly what we’d expect Saturday Night Live to cook up on Bale – a monotonous growler carrying a lame action flick to timeless mediocrity.

    Bale is a great actor when he is inspired. But in this film, he appears to be reduced to something close to self-parody.

    3:10 to Yuma was a masterclass in minimalism. Batman Begins (on the part of the director and the lead star) was an elevation of a tired and often formulaic genre. Newsies displays Bale’s latent but significant song and dance skills.

    I think McG is as much to blame as anyone here. The guy is seriously delusional. It looks like he’s pieced together an entirely mediocre and instantly forgettable pile of rubble – yet he insists it is genius. I’ve read he believes Bale to be this generations greatest actor – and thus, makes the perfect John Connor (?). I’ve also heard that he originally designed to cast Daniel Day Lewis in Sam Worthington’s role. Did he imagine that Day Lewis would accept? Was he under the impression that the man who had to be conned by MARTIN SCORSESE to consider a role and involves himself in less films per year than nearly any star to be tempted by a role as a robot in Terminator 4? If so, he needs to be mentally evaluated.

    McG is the only person inspired here. Not Bale, nor Shane Hulburt. Only McG, the fanboy, trying to create a screwered and exclusively personally piece of “art” from mindless tripe. This film is surely headed for disaster.

  • 14 5-07-2009 at 12:36 pm

    Pete said...

    Bale’s performances depend on what the role offers and who the character is. As Bruce Wayne, the character is burnt out, hollow, damaged goods as Nolan describes. That’s how Bale plays it. I think the problem is that Bale plays very similar characters in each film; therfore, warranting the same performance.

  • 15 5-07-2009 at 12:39 pm

    Pete said...

    “RESCU YAWN” LOL! I’d have to agree. That movie was utterly boring.

  • 16 5-07-2009 at 12:48 pm

    P-Dawg said...

    BurmaShave — touche on your point. I can’t speak that much for his talent as a director as I’ve only seen a few of his movies (most of which I enjoyed). I do respect him as a filmmaker, though, especially since he’s been doing it for so long (unlike someone like Uwe Boll who somehow has been allowed to continue “directing” movies.) Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and in the case of RESCUE DAWN, all I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t see it on a plane because I would’ve got up and walked out.

  • 17 5-07-2009 at 1:06 pm

    Ted M said...

    One word: METROLAND

  • 18 5-07-2009 at 1:14 pm

    actionman said...

    REscue Dawn is a great film, but not as good as Herzog’s doc Little Dieter Needs to Fly.

    Bale is a terrific actor, but I do agree that he seems to be phoning in his work in T4, based solely on the footage from the trailers.

    However, his run of 3:10, The Prestige, Rescue Dawn, BB, TDK, and most importantly, the masterpiece that is The New World, is extraordinary.

    Oh, and from what a buddy tells me, he’s VERY one-note in Public Enemies, which is not necessarily his fault; I gather he’s got the most underwritten character in the film. Can’t wait to see the movie, however; Michael Mann never fucks up.

    Also, Bill, can you please explain how Scorsese “conned” DDL into GONY?

  • 19 5-07-2009 at 3:08 pm

    Adam said...

    Yeah, i’ll side with Herzog, Malick, Spielberg, Mann, Haynes, Nolan, etc. If these directors keep hiring him, he’s bringing something to the table.

    Let him do Terminator and give a mediocre and similiar performance, the paycheck must be nice for once.

  • 20 5-07-2009 at 5:02 pm

    Bill said...

    Actionman, if I remember correctly, Scorsese lured Daniel Day Lewis to New York under the pretense of a shoe cobblers convention.

  • 21 5-08-2009 at 12:13 am

    Alex said...

    I just don’t like the accent he puts on when he plays most of these characters….something about it just puts me off.

  • 22 5-08-2009 at 8:33 am

    actionman said...

    Bill — I had heard that DDL was indeed a shoe cobbler in between some projects but didn’t know that Scorsese had tricked him

  • 23 5-08-2009 at 12:08 pm

    James D. said...

    John Connor is supposed to be a leader of the humans. A bit of a hard role to really get into.

    I would have rather had Edward Furlong back.

  • 24 5-12-2009 at 5:33 am

    Jane said...

    Pitt is not slacking at all and if people weren’t so blinded by their unfounded hatred and harsh standards, they might have been able to appreciate his subtle and nuanced performance over a much maligned movie. I don’t think people understand how challenging it was to even pull of that part due to various factors.
    That nomination was strategic and calculated by the biased industry to increase publicity and backlash to mock his talent by nominating him for a lesser performance. He was just a slot-filler. He has an impressive and underappreciated body of work. Then when he gives a really exceptional performance, he will be snubbed. Everything gets twisted into a negative effect because of the cycle of corruption and manipulation. The role itself was limiting and weakly written. There isn’t much any actor could have done with that part.
    Replace him with Depp or Daniel Day-Lewis, there wouldn’t have been much of an improvement. There wasn’t much to work with.
    Depp would have played it with his same style-
    flashy, hammy, and half-serious. DDL would
    have played much like Bale, brooding and intense. If you observe closely in repeat viewings, Pitt brough a lot more to the role than you think if people weren’t being extra judgemental. He made that role watchable.

    I don’t think Bale would have a made a more interesting Benjamin, he probably would
    have come off as flat or cold. Bale performs better with a strong script but he doesn’t elevate weaker material. Bale also uses the same style in most of his movies. He just comes off as Bale
    impersonating characters rather than truly embodying the character, with the exception of The Machinist. I do think he is a good actor but
    he is very overrated. Solid but noextraordinary. He usually does have good taste in scripts and is very career savvy. I would say he is slacking and selling out by being involved in yet another action blockbuster franchise. I do admire his choices but he needs to make more of an effort.
    I thought he was great in I’m Not There but was overshadowed by the always magnificent Blanchett.

  • 25 5-12-2009 at 5:36 am

    Jane said...

    Solid but not extraordinary.