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Does Christian Bale Suffer From Sean Penn Syndrome?

I like Christian Bale. Or at least, I want to like Christian Bale. Having watched him since American Psycho (joining relatively late in his career-to-date but earlier than most), I am continual impressed by the quality of his acting. Yet I find it very hard to refute when my brother begins justifying his hatred for the erstwhile Welsh thespian. Eventually – after much soul-searching – I figured out why. Christian Bale suffers from what might be termed ‘Sean Penn syndrome’. In short, he’s an incredibly talented douchebag.

Is this the face of a highly talented douchebag?

Is this the face of a highly talented douchebag?

The talent part should be relatively easy to prove. He’s easily the best screen Batman (arguable not too difficult, though I do like Keaton) – albeit better illustrated in the character study Batman Begins than the ensemble Dark Knight – he’s got a lot of fair praise for daring rolls, executed with swerious panache. There’s the role of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, his actually incredibly dangerous method-acting turn in The Machinist, and similarly strong dramatic turns in Rescue Dawn and Harsh Times. He proved himself capable of leading relatively intelligent (if not commercially successful) big budget action movies with Equilibrium and 3:10 to Yuma, all while balancing smaller artsy roles (in I’m Not There or the English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle). Of course, he’s done his share of clunkers – Shaft and Reign of Fire come to mind – but he’s always watchable. That’s the sign of a talented actor: they’re fun to watch even when the move isn’t.

The douchebagness isn’t particularly difficult to demonstrate either. There’s the rant and the verbal assault on his mother and sister. There are excuses that could made in either case – he was stressed, he was having a tough time, the space between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ is a sacred space for a performer, they were badmouthing his wife – but the truth is he should have known better. Or at least, those close to him should have known better. That there were two such incidents made public (it’s quite possible there were more behind the scenes) indicate that this sort of thing is not uncommon for the actor. There’s some truth in what McG says – those close to Bale should try to protect him from himself, it’s the role of a director to generate trust with his actors – but it’s still hard not to believe that this isn’t part of a larger pattern.

Christian Bale is awesome, even when the role in question is a bit thin...

Christian Bale is awesome, even when the role in question is a bit thin...

Sure, Hollywood types tend to be highly strung. Charlie Chaplin was apparently near-impossible to work with, as was Stanley Kubrick. There are horror stories that have been told for decades about Marlon Brando. But all of these came out years even decades after the event. Maybe they circled within the industry and made the individuals hard to work with – Orsen Welles famously ended up making soup commercials and starring in Transformers, he was that big of a dick – but these stories didn’t make it to the public. Marlon Brando was an awesome performer. His scenes in Apocolypse Now are truly brilliant, although I feel a little tainted knowing all he put Coppola through to get that far. Would widespread knowledge and tabloid sensationalism have overshadowed the role were the film made today? I find it hard to think otherwise. We know now when Russell Crowe throws a phone. We know when Seinna Miller thinks Russell Crowe is too fat to be her love interest. We know when a member of the cast fo Grey’s Anatomy makes a homophobic remark.

I don’t know if it would be better if we didn’t know. I don’t know if we should view performers in a vacuum when they are onscreen, but I try to. It doesn’t matter that I have huge distaste for Sean Penn giving Saddam Hussein’s regime the seal of approval, he is one of the best actors in the industry today. I don’t care that Christian Bale has anger issues, I will see Terminator: Salvation and attempt to enjoy it. If only more actors could be like his co-star in the upcoming Public Enemies. I know next to nothing about Johnny Depp, which means that everytime he reinvents himself on screen, I’m watching in rapt attention.

One Response

  1. […] know – maybe I should look at a film in a vacuum. I am able to put aside any of Tom Cruise or Christian Bale’s behind-the-scene antics, so is it a matter of degree? Does enjoying Iron Man or Tropic […]

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