Christian Bale is one of those rare chameleons, an actor who can blend into each character and every genre he steps foot into. Bale doesn’t reveal much of his private life on promotional circuits and he likes it that way. Such choices ensure that audiences don’t come into his films with pre-conceived notions of what he may or not do with his characters. This mystique doesn’t make for great interviews, but it enables him to completely embody a new person each time onscreen. Next, he’ll take on a decidely more existensial role, calling to mind Guido Anselmi (8½) for Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups. To celebrate his three-plus decades in acting— and his 41st birthday—let’s take a look at the varied roles that Mr. Bale has occupied in that time.
Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)
Dressing up as a man-sized bat and beating criminals to a pulp would seem like the most psychotic role Bale has ever attempted, but Patrick Bateman makes Bruce Wayne quite sane in comparison. As the murderous Wall Street executive obsessed with his own excessive lifestyle, Bale showed off how easily he could disappear into the mind of a psychopath after playing in much lighter fare previously.
Jim (Empire of the Sun)
Entrusting child actors with a lead role usually puts directors in a precarious position, but a then 13 year old Christian Bale blew audiences away as a young boy in a Japanese confinement camp. Bale displayed a wide range of emotions that rivaled any adult performance that year and the film served as an announcement of new talent that would enthrall viewers for decades to come.
Irving Rosenfeld (American Hustle)
Irving Rosenfeld is just as showy as Dicky Eklund, but in a completely different fashion. Whereas Eklund mugged for the hell of it, Rosenfeld’s theatricality serves a greater purpose and is absolutely crucial to each ploy. Irving’s heavily constructed hair piece and paunch ease his prey into a false security, and then he strikes.
Batman (The Dark Knight Trilogy)
Michael Keaton uttered “I’m Batman” first on film, but Bale’s Batman is the definitive take on the character now. In past films, actors without the ornaments and implements of Batman, made Bruce Wayne ring hollow, but Bale pulled off both halfs of the character, resurrecting a franchise considered dead for almost 10 years.
Dan Evans (3:10 to Yuma)
A failed farmer left with one leg by the Civil War faces the opportunity of a lawtime when tasked with escorting outlaw Ben Wade to Contention for $200. Evans certainly doesn’t fit the prototype of a hero in a Western, but Bale brought a world-weary gravitas to the role, offering a man unseen in a genre before. Devastated by the loss of confidence in all around him, he inexplicably takes the greatest risk of all.
Dicky Ecklund (The Fighter)
Bale’s transformation for The Fighter rivaled The Machinist with the actor dropping a significant amount of weight to play Micky Ward’s brother/drug-addled ex-boxer. As the failed half of a duo that came from the same blue-collar town and sought fame in boxing, Bale proved an excellent foil as the flamboyant Dicky to Wahlberg’s beleaguered Micky. Oscar voters must have enjoyed it: The role was Bale’s first Academy Award win in as many nominations.
John Rolfe (The New World)
A relatively unseen sight in recent years, Terrence Malick’s film offers a happier Christian Bale, removed from the depression and bouts of violence he made famous in American Psycho and as Batman. Here, Bale offers kindess and loyalty as Rolfe, a lone source of shelter to a woman abandoned by society. It’s a kind turn and one audiences would like to see again from the brooding Welshman.