Bale – always the second banana?

I read this article on Yahoo yesterday on why Johnny Depp is the only one on the poster of Public Enemies, but not Bale. The funny thing is, I’ve been wondering about that ever since I saw the first trailer. Sure, Depp is undoubtedly a very bankable star, but Bale just came out of the monstrous hit that was The Dark Knight, so at the very least, shouldn’t the two of them be on the poster??

Speaking of the Batman sequel, it reminds me how everyone was talking about Heath Ledger (even before his death) and raved about his performance as the Joker. It became even more so after Ledger’s death, to the point where I thought the movie might as well be called the Joker. I’m not saying it’s not without merit, Ledger did turn in an incredible performance which deserved all the kudos, but so did Bale. I think his portrayal as the vulnerable, tormented hero was equally powerful, and the success of the film rode a lot on his skillful performance as well.

But the fact of the matter is, the powers that be obviously thinks Bale’s image doesn’t sell. It’s something I can’t put my finger on because I think he deserves to be as bankable as those of his caliber. Y’see, I like Bale not only for his excellent acting but because he generally stays out of the limelight and is a devoted father and family man. He’s also a dedicated actor who doesn’t mind suffering for his art. Not a lot of actors is willing to drop 1/3 of his body weight for a role in a tiny-budget flix, which is exactly what he did for The Machinist (look at his sickeningly skinny frame here). He’s known to play dark, tortured souls and shuns rom-coms or chick flix (more power to him!). Alas, Bale isn’t exactly a ‘likable’ guy, he comes across pretty aloof or even intimidating in interviews, perhaps even too serious for his own good. Then there’s his foul rant at the DP on the Terminator Salvation set which got leaked to the public. He’s since apologized for his inexcusable behavior, but does he come out unscathed? My gut tells me his reputation might not be as resilient as say, Robert Downey Jr.’s (who’s got into more trouble than one could count, yet could still open a flix on account on his name alone).

On most indie/smaller flix however, Bale frequently got top billing: American Psycho, Equillibrium, The Machinist, Rescue Dawn, Harsh Times. And in various supporting roles, he’s often what you’d call a ‘scene stealer,’ even with limited screen time. I.e. in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I sympathized with his Mandras character much more than Nic Cage’s and wished he’d been the lead.

Bale as John Rolfe
Bale as John Rolfe

Same with The New World (the story about Pocahontas), I bought the DVD solely for Bale’s 20-minute performance as John Rolfe, which was more heartfelt and moving than Colin Farrell tried to be in the whole 2-hours-plus.

In any case, here’s a list of major studio flix where he’s relegated to ‘second banana’ status:

The Prestige: Second to Hugh Jackman
3:10 to Yuma: Second to Russell Crowe
Dark Knight: Second to Heath Ledger
Public Enemies: Second to Johnny Depp

Edit: Since this post was published, Bale has signed on to do The Fighter as boxing trainer Dick Ecklund, where he might again play second fiddle to Mark Wahlberg as “Irish” Mickey Ward.

Who knows if this remains a continuing trend, but as long as he only cares about turning a good performance regardless of who’s getting top billing, I’ll continue to watch him.

So, do you agree of my assessment of Mr. Bale? Please chime in below.