Christian Bale night and too much of a good thing

Okay, I don’t want the title of this post to imply one can ever get enough Christian Bale. Not me, anyway. I’ve been fascinated by him as an actor ever since he did Empire of the Sun as a young boy.

The other night, I went to see The Prestige and Harsh Times back to back and I’m pretty sure I could’ve sat through another film with Bale in it if one had presented itself. (I highly recommend Rescue Dawn, but don’t know when it opens. Keep an eye out.)

My too much of a good thing comment refers not to Bale, but to his moive The Prestige. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked this film, mostly. It’s my kind of movie. But something about it didn’t work 100% for me and it got me thinking… Did the filmmaker try to do too much? Did he try to combine too many interesting elements? Did he overdo it?

Spoiler alert… I’m going to to try to avoid spoilers here.. but if you haven’t seen the film and plan to, you may want to stop reading now, or skip down to Harsh Times.

The Prestige has three timelines and through the first half or so of the film, it was sometimes hard to tell which timeline we were watching. At the time, I found this disorienting. It was exacerbated by the fact that two of the timelines had similar elements…. In one, Hugh Jackman is decoding Christian Bale’s secret journal and in another Bale is decoding Jackman’s. Also, one had Scarlett Johannson and one had Piper Perebo–who look remarkably similar. (Not that you’d mistake them in the movie… I’m just saying… I’m sure that’s how Piper got cast.) Another source of confusion was the accents… Part of the film is in London and part is in the US, but the accents weren’t used as cues, with plenty of of American accents in London and vice versa… And we had an Australian actor (Jackman) playing American, American actors (Johannson and Perebo among others) playing British, and a Welsh actor (Bale) doing cockney. Not to mention David Bowie doing a quasi-German accent. And each of the actors occasionally slips and lets his/her real accent show. I think Michael Caine might have been the only lead actor using his own accent?

Combined with all that, the plot has multiple double-crosses, devious plots and the two major characters are illusionists by profession. So, I guess one is bound to get a trifle mixed up.

But–big but–by the time we hit the last quarter or so of the film, I actually decided that all that initial confusion actually works in the movie’s favor. The disorientation felt purposeful, a devise the filmmaker used not unlike the misdirection techniques used by his illusionist characters. In my opinion, it made the story a puzzle to work out and more interesting to watch.

So where did it break down for me? I think it was the sci fi element. Maybe it’s too much to expect us to believe in all these magical illusions and sort out the double crosses and timelines and also buy what actually happens. (This is where I’m going to be vague to avoid spoilers.)

Still it was pretty cool. Okay as I write this, I’m decidedly warming up to this film. I’ve got to get one of my drunk writer buddies to go see it so we can discuss.

On to Harsh Times.

I first saw this film over a year ago at the 2005 TIFF. I remember being kind of blown away then. Overwhelmed anyway. So I decided to see it again.

On second viewing, there is much to admire about this film made by David Ayer (Training Day).. but I’m not sure I can give it my highest ringing endorsement. A low budget film to be sure (a boom mike almost comes down to hit Eva Longoria in the head in one scene) I never expected this film to get a wide theatrical release. I expect it wouldn’t have, if Bale hadn’t recently made a few commercial films. (like Batman Returns and The Prestige.) It certainly is a film that goes for shock value — I think that’s why it stuck in my mind the first time I saw it during a week of many, many films.

I don’t want to give even the hint of a spoiler… If you’re going to see this film, you’re best going into it completely cold… But I love this quote from Rick Groen’s review of the film in The Globe and Mail. “Harsh Times opens with a deadly nightmare and ends with a vast bloodbath — in between, things get a little gruesome.”

Pretty much sums things up. Christian Bale should take out a patent on psycho characterizations.