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Christian Bale’s Top 5 Greatest Roles

In celebration of Christian Bale‘s two knockout punches this year, we are counting down his top 5 greatest roles. Right away, I’ll qualify that I didn’t include David O. Russell‘s absolutely excellent American Hustle on the list because it is only being widely released today, and it should be seen chiefly as an achievement in directing. I saw an advanced screening earlier this month (my review), though, and I assure you that Bale does deserve a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars as much as anyone else right now. And it’s not the first time that Bale drastically changed his body image for a role; here are a few more of those times:  

5. Out of the Furnace

This one didn’t do too well at the box office…maybe it has something to do with the lukewarm reviews it received. Click here for our review. Personally, I loved it. It was exactly what I expected once I saw the crisp and enigmatic trailer many months ago. Maybe I’m partial to it for resurrecting “Release” by Pearl Jam–director Scott Cooper makes full use of his admiration for the tune.

In Furnace, Bale proves that he’s mastered the art of being an American. He’s emotional, but hardly. He’s rough, he’s raw, and he delivers as powerful a performance as you’ve ever seen from him. With his ex-girlfriend, played by Zoe Saldana, Russell Baze lets his guard down as low as possible: When she tells him she’s pregnant with another man’s child, he can only quietly utter “That’s wonderful.” She responds, “is it?” Have a look at an interview with Cooper, Bale, and Saldana discussing the scene, which is one of Bale’s best:

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4. The Prestige 

One of those films that is a completely different experience on the second viewing, once you know how it ends, The Prestige is the materialization of what Bale has been known for doing throughout his 25+ year career: devoting himself entirely to his art.

If you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, I’ll tread lightly. Early on, the two magicians (Bale and Hugh Jackman) attend a magic show where the magician unveils a large and entirely full fish bowl from, essentially, nowhere. How does he do it? By acting as if he is crippled, so that he can carry the cumbersome object between his legs without arousing suspicion. Don’t worry, that is no spoiler. Bale’s character and Bale himself can relate: his body is a tool for his art. Whether it’s magic, or whether it’s acting. Have a look at a pivotal scene between his character, Alfred Borden, and his wife Sarah:

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3. The Machinist

Speaking of that devotion……

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Christian Bale is a relatively tall man at 6’0″, and to lose enough weight to play the insomniac Trevor Reznik, he did almost nothing else but eat apples and smoke cigarettes. He weighed 120 lbs during filming. And while I’m beginning to doubt the validity of his claim after seeing him gain 40 lbs for American Hustle, Bale did say he would never lose that much weight again for a role. He wanted to see if he could do it just the one time. In less than a year, he bulked back up again for the Batman Begins screen test.

2. The Fighter

It would be irresponsible of us not to include the role for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. His first turn with director David O. Russell, Christian Bale plays real-life boxer Dicky Eklund, who is under the illusion that a crystal meth PSA documentary being made about him is actually about his return to the ring.

Again, the way in which he portrays American characters is equally remarkable and frustrating, but incredibly fun to watch. Simply, The Fighter is not about Dicky. It’s about his brother Micky (Mark Wahlberg). Of course, the obnoxious and exasperating Dicky does what he can to make anything about him–in his own proud American way.

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If you don’t feel sympathy for the crack-addicted Dicky, you may have missed Russell’s point. The end of the film is about as touching as you get.

1. American Psycho 

No surprises here.

Any time that you might spend reading my thoughts on why American Psycho is Bale’s finest hour should be redirected to this 20 minute video:

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I will only add this: he’s made quite clear to his audiences that he is capable of an outstanding range of emotion and versatility. By playing the character Patrick Bateman, who is distinctly without those qualities, but being so entertaining to watch anyway, we are left with an idea of Christian Bale…some kind of abstraction. Only an entity.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the roles you think should be on the list that aren’t, or what your favorite Christian Bale moments are. Tell us on Facebook and Twitter, and please follow @MattBenincasa and @ScreenInvasion!

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The Author

Matt Benincasa

Matt Benincasa

Matt is an actor and writer from NYC, attending Fordham University with a Major in Communications and Minor in Theatre.