Thursday, July 2, 2009

Depp vs. Bale

There's a grudge match going on in theaters this week, but it's not between John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent trying to reel him in.

Actually, it's a showdown between Hollywood's two biggest stars.

And, it's only in my head.

But don't tell me I'm the first one who looked at the cast of Public Enemies and thought "Damn -- there's no one bigger in Hollywood than those two."

Seriously, who would you slot in ahead of them? I'll give you a moment. Still nothing? That's because these guys are it, the be-all and end-all when it comes to Hollywood stars.

Times sure have changed, haven't they?

It's a sign of the Hollywood we live in now, where the stars are not STARS like they used to be, in capital letters. Just ten years ago it seemed like we needed only a single name to identify our biggest stars: Tom, Arnold (but not Tom Arnold), Bruce, Julia, Mel, Harrison, Denzel. Okay, maybe you'd have to clarify which Tom you were talking about -- Cruise or Hanks. But there was little doubt about who was on top of this heap.

Now? It's not quite so clear, is it? We've slowly transitioned into an age in which the most bankable names don't seem like larger-than-life personalities. Sure, if you're Johnny Depp, you can't get this far just by being a wallflower. But doesn't it still seem like he's kind of quiet and unassuming, the kind of guy you still sort of feel should appear only in indie movies?

And speaking of indie movies, what about Bale? This guy once had indie cred all over the place. You're talking about a guy who played Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and Trevor Reznik (for which he lost 63 pounds) in The Machinist. Sure, now we think of him as Batman and John Connor, but don't we have to look back, scratch our heads and wonder how we got to this point? I mean the guy is weird.

I suppose I would get sued by the estate of Brad Pitt if I did not mention him in this conversation. But I think even Brad may have been surpassed by these two meteoric stars in terms of his ability to put asses in the seats.

Meanwhile, they've all got to watch their backs for Shia LaBeouf.

Shia LaBeouf? Who ever thought one of the biggest stars in Hollywood would have such an inaccessible, French-inflected name? And be barely 20 years old? Yet ladies and gentlemen, I give you Shia LaBeouf.

We can't forget either about the box office king, Orlando Bloom, whose films have (I believe) grossed more than anyone else, compliments of the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies. I think Sam Jackson might be nipping at his heels courtesy of the last three Star Wars movies and, well, the fact that he appears in 14 movies a year. But yeah, Orlando Bloom -- a fey Englishman who looks like a stiff breeze might knock him over.

Who else you got? What about women? Jennifer Aniston? Angelina Jolie? I'm not really sure.

So what exactly is happening here? Are we going through a star outage, or are we just becoming more sophisticated in our tastes? Ask anyone ten years ago, and they couldn't have told you that a movie starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale being released on July 1, 2009 would contain Hollywood's two biggest stars. But the facts themselves are indisputable.

And to me it seems like a good thing. It represents moving away from muscles (in the case of Depp) or traditional good looks (in the case of Bale), though I guess many a person would retort that Depp can be plenty muscular and Bale plenty handsome.

But they just don't seem like the top names in Hollywood. They're guys who have shunned the spotlight rather than courted it, though let's also admit that's mostly an act -- the very regularity of a person's involvement in the film industry makes anonymity impossible. But their act has convinced us that they are reluctant stars, whose $20 million paychecks are less interesting to them than the idea of doing good work.

And they're both opening in Michael Mann's Public Enemies today.

But should we expect a stratospheric, Transformers-sized box office this weekend? I don't think so. Maybe it's the x-factor of the period piece. Maybe it's the lack of a bankable female lead. (Let's just say that a lot of ticket buyers find themselves more acquainted with Transformers' Megan Fox than Enemies' Marion Cotillard).

Or maybe, if the cash doesn't roll in, maybe it will be an indication that big stars really have lost their drawing power. Maybe there are fewer and fewer people we'll see these days just because they're in something. Maybe we care more about reheated nostalgia and the ever-improving visual effects used to support them, than we do about stars.

After all, who needs the real Arnold Schwarzenegger when you can put a digital one in Terminator Salvation?

With that terrible movie, which just so happens to star Bale, not yet having stumbled to $125 million at the U.S. box office, this weekend could be a bellweather indeed about the status of Hollywood's newest standard bearers.

1 comment:

Vancetastic said...

Reading this randomly in February of 2010, I have to go on record saying I forgot to mention Will Smith in this post. For shame.