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Wanted: Christian Bale

Stephanie DePrez | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Christian Bale is finally crossing the threshold. After nearly 20 years of a hard but steady journey up the Hollywood totem poll, Bale is at last nearing the inner ring of actors. He is becoming the kind of guy that Hollywood trusts to deliver. The top box office opening for “3:10 to Yuma” is testament to Bale’s ability to work magic in a good movie.

Cinematic victory did not come easily for Bale, who has worked steadily in the industry since 1986. After a few roles in TV movies, Bale starred in Disney’s Newsies, a musical that was somewhat of a flop. He continued to work in the Disney circle and was the voice of Thomas, John Smith’s friend, in the animated film Pocahontas. He played opposite Wynona Rider as Laurie in Little Women. Bale began to gain prominence when he starred as Demetrius in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Following that role was a steady flow of large Hollywood releases, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2005 that a movie thrust Bale into the spotlight. “Batman Begins” opened to a whirlwind of excitement, and it helped Hollywood get through what was turning into years of solid box office decline. For Bale, it was “Batman Begins” that put him in a position to land the movies he wanted.

Since then, Bale has had a trail of successes. He’s taken a few risks, including “American Psycho” prior to “Batman Begins,” but he has allowed nothing to stand in the way of his rise to cinematic power. He lost a third of his body weight to do “The Machinist,” the story of a man suffering from extreme insomnia. Mainstream success accompanied “The Prestige” with Hugh Jackman and the Vietnam War film “Rescue Dawn.” At last, Bale has reached a position of authority among his Hollywood peers.

Movies like “3:10 to Yuma” do not come along often; the last truly successful Western was “Unforgiven” with Clint Eastwood in the early ’90s. What used to be the single greatest Hollywood formula has since faded into obscurity, a somewhat forgotten art form that no longer equals immediate box office gold. Still, shooting a Western is a sign of accomplishment for any actor, and without a doubt the success of “Batman Begins” has led to bigger and better roles for Bale. Ever since “Batman Begins,” he’s been able to stretch his capabilities as an actor.

Though never formally trained, Bale’s intensity and subtle emotion have carried him through his career. Now, he doesn’t always have to wait for another movie to come along. He is receiving scripts, as opposed to seeking them out. Though perhaps not an Oscar contender (yet), Bale is a key element of what is currently the hottest movie in America. He manages to hold his own against heavy-hitter Russell Crowe (Best Actor Oscar winner in 2001). His good-guy performance helps make “3:10 to Yuma” a truly great American Western.

Christian Bale has proven that the basic Hollywood system works: Start out young, get bit roles, work hard, get bigger roles, grow as an actor and work until something happens. And somewhere along the line, that something did happen. All eyes are on Bale as he takes his next steps as a true Hollywood staple.