Watching “Batman Begins” again, I was struck with déjà vu. Christian Bale in a jail cell; I’ve seen this before. In fact, Bale can be seen in jails, prisons, and prisons camps in many of his films. Here’s is a compendium of Christian Bale’s time in cinematic prison. (I haven’t seen “Newsies” and “Swing Kids” in a while, but I’m guessing there could be some jail time there too).
This remake starring Samuel L. Jackson showcased Bale as the vicious, reckless, and high strung Walter Wade Jr. With Wade’s wealth and connections, he doesn’t spend a ton of time in jail.
In this dystopian film where people take pills to suppress their emotions, John Preston (Bale) is drawn to an imprisoned rebel (Emily Watson) and becomes an enemy of the state. Bale kills 118 people, making the third most deadly movie character of all time.
Batman Begins 2005
Hiding from his past, Bruce Wayne (Bale) takes on criminals 7 at a time in prison. Not impressed by his antics, but seeing potential Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) arranges for his release and teaches him to fight evil at a higher level with the League of Shadows.
Rescue Dawn 2006
Based on the true story of Vietnam War fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, Bale spends most of the movie in a prisoner of war camp devising his escape. Despite the torture, starvation, and bleakness of his situation, this has to be Bale’s most ebullient performance.
The Prestige 2006
Second collaboration with Christopher Nolan, Bale plays Alfred Borden, rival magician to Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier. Borden and Angier try to one up the other, each time stripping away something valuable. Finally, Borden is arrested and convicted of Angier’s death during his stage act. Borden is executed, but like a master magician he knows, “making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back.”
3:10 to Yuma 2007
Civil War vet Dan Evans takes a desperate job of escorting deadly criminal Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to a catch a train to his trail in Yuma. Instead of being in jail, Bale is the warden of one conniving inmate. The two cannot help but form a mutual respect for the other.
Public Enemies 2009
Bale plays G Man Melvin Purvis on the hunt for Johnny Depp’s John Dillinger. Being that it’s Michael Mann, I couldn’t wait for the two to face off, which they do when Dillinger is locked up. Bale gets to be on the other side of the bars this time.
The Fighter 2010
All that prison time paid off for Bale in David O. Russell’s “The Fighter.” As Dicky Eklund, Bale plays the manipulative, drug addict brother to Mark Walberg’s Mickey Ward. Eklund gets locked up, but Mickey can feel his brother’s influence from the penitentiary. Eklund becomes the “mayor” of the prison with his charismatic style and unbreakable swagger. But underneath, Dicky is crumbling. Bale won his first Academy Award bringing that painful vulnerability and unfounded confidence to the screen.
With “The Dark Knight Rises” it looks like Bale will be back in prison. With all this experience, it should be one hat for him by now.
After seeing it several times, I believe The Dark Knight Rises is the greatest superhero film ever made and the best film of the year. Christopher Nolan unifies the three films and builds to an electrifying and satisfying conclusion in Rises. Rises excels over every other superhero film because we see the most dramatic changes in Bruce Wayne/ Batman’s character since the origin story. Everything is rooted in Bruce’s relationships and quest to save Gotham from its most lethal enemy: The League of Shadows. Christian Bale gives his best performance as Batman in Rises and the surrounding cast is top notch. Anne Hathaway is the standout, successfully re-imagining Catwoman/ Selina Kyle and fitting flawlessly into Nolan’s gritty Gotham city.
As Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy comes to a close with The Dark Knight Rises I’m struck by how influential the films have been on my thinking not just about filmmaking, but also morality and the pursuit of social goods. Through the ensemble of characters, Nolan explores various responses to injustice. Our of their clashes and collaborations, Nolan puts forth a complex and compelling narrative of a city in chaos and the flawed people charged to bring balance. Jim Gordon, played by Gary Oldman, is the crucial part of this moral tale. His presence alone gives Bruce Wayne and us hope that Gotham can be saved.
Gordon is the one righteous man in Gotham. As a beat cop in Batman Begins, he encounters young Bruce Wayne after the murder of his parents. It’s such a small, but beautiful scene. Gordon tries to offer comfort, letting Bruce grieve instead of promising justice. Surrounded by the corruption in Gotham, Gordon is the one good cop in town. Gordon is pragmatic; always looking for ways to seek justice, serve others, and survive when everything is against you. His partner, a literally dirty cop, wonders why he won’t join in on the graft. Gordon responds, “I’m no rat. In a town this bad, who’s there to rat to.” You feel the weight of injustice on him, but his commitment to do something and do it well makes him well placed for a new era in Gotham.
After devising his plan to become Batman, Bruce Wayne starts building a team to take on the mob. Lt. Jim Gordon is the second member (Alfred being the first) and Batman takes great risk in approaching him. Gordon knows it’s money, entrenched power, and fear really blocking the justice system. Batman delivers Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) to Gordon while providing leverage to Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) to secure a conviction. Yet, the dangers facing Gotham are much bigger than organized crime. Seeing that Batman can make good on his promises, Gordon becomes his number 2 in defeating Ra’s Al Ghul. Batman Begins felt so fresh because of how rooted in reality it was. Superheroes can do more than regular men, but even Batman can use a regular guy like Gordon to save the day.
Gordon and Batman interact as equals. At the close of the film, Gordon says, “I never said thank you.” Batman’s response of “And you’ll never have to” speaks not only of his self-lessness, but also the debt he owes Gordon for restoring some order to Gotham. Batman has power and resources at his disposal, but Gordon has the experience, wisdom, and foresight that Bruce Wayne lacks. Gordon sees the good in Batman’s dramatic action, but also the danger of escalation. Despite what lies ahead, the relationship between Gordon and Batman is the brightest hope for Gotham City.
With The Dark Knight Nolan takes everything to the next level and pushes his characters to the limits of their virtue. With Lt. Gordon, we find him promoted and running the Major Crimes Unit. Gordon remains the bright spot of the GCPD, but in assembling his own team he has to use what’s available. Harvey Dent accuses Gordon of hypocrisy, using cops he’s investigated for corruption to fight it. Gordon’s pragmatism remains, “I can’t afford to be idealistic. If I didn’t work with cops you investigated while you were making a name for yourself at IAI, I would be working alone.” Despite having his doubts about his team, Gordon would like to believe his leadership is enough to make MCU effective.
The Joker exploits the weak infrastructure of Gotham to create chaos. With Gordon, he uses Gordon’s pragmatism against him. The dirty cops Dent warned about are key players in capturing Dent and Rachel Dawes. During interrogation, The Joker raises Gordon’s flaw: his trust in his team.
Lt. James Gordon: Harvey Dent never made it home.
The Joker: Of course not.
Lt. James Gordon: What have you done with him?
The Joker: Me? I was right here. [holds up his arms in handcuffs]
The Joker: Who did you leave him with? Your people? Assuming, of course, they are still *your* people, and not Maroni’s. Does it depress you, Commissioner? To know just how alone you really are? Does it make you feel responsible for Harvey Dent’s current predicament?
Despite being a good cop and leader, Gordon cannot contain or transform the others around him. That’s the tragedy of his character and of The Dark Knight. In the hands of The Joker, the goodness in the characters becomes a lethal weakness. Two-Face expresses their collective despair “We tried to be decent men in an indecent time.” In order to salvage something of their efforts, Batman and Gordon cover up Harvey’s rampage and preserve the reforms they started against organized crime.
Rises Spoilers Ahead