Bale is 40 years old. Onscreen for 28 years, he’s been starring in feature films nearly as long as Barrymore (32 years), Daniel Day-Lewis (also 32 years), and Tom Hanks (30 years). Unlike those performers, who almost always play leads, Bale is the prince of ensemble movies, feeding off the actors around him, elevating their performances as they electrify his. Excepting American Psycho and The Machinist, where he is the lead, Bale is an accomplished team player. It’s typical for Bale to play a role like G-man Melvin Purvis to Johnny Depp’s sensual John Dillinger in Public Enemies, or a haunted, prosthetic-legged bounty hunter to Russell Crowe’s charismatic, nimble outlaw in 3:10 To Yuma, or the introverted fanboy dazzled by glam-rock extroverts Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Velvet Goldmine. Even when he’s the eponymous character in the Dark Knight trilogy, he’s one in the ensemble.
I read this piece right after watching American Hustle for the second time this weekend, so I might have been primed to accept the premise, but if felt like such a clarification of something I’ve been thinking for a while—Christian Bale is a damn good actor. Rickey also nails something that I’ve been telling people for years—Empire of the Sun is a fantastic film and Bale is amazing in it, perhaps the best child actor performance I’ve ever seen.