We all know Christian Bale has many personae, but given the recent dominance of his Hoarse Whisperer persona as seen in The Dark Knight and Terminator Salvation (occasionally punctuated by threats to crash one’s lights of course), I had begun to forget his true facility as an actor.
Laurel Canyon is therefore a pleasant reminder that Bale used to be “one of our finest actors.” American Psycho is still probably his best comedic performance, but Laurel Canyon might be his best serious role, unadorned by any of the physical feats that potentially distract from some of his other roles (e.g. The Machinist).
Frances McDormand is the only character to play her own nationality: along with Bale, Kate Beckinsale also plays an American (with glasses that make her look cuter than usual), while her fellow Englishwoman Natascha McElhone plays an Israeli immigrant, and Yankee Alessandro Nivola finally trades on his Chris-Martin-lookalike status to play the lead singer of a Coldplay clone.
The plot shares many similarities with Ozon’s Swimming Pool, but for once the American picture has the prior claim to these themes. Although their general release was roughly contemporary, depending on the country, Cholodenko’s film apparently premiered a year prior to its French counterpart.
Much of the tone should be credited to photographer Wally Pfister (making Bale a more frequent collaborator of Pfister than of Nolan), who films a cross-table conversation with his camera peeking over the edge of the dinner table. The final shot perhaps owes something to the end of Ralph Lombreglia’s Men Under Water, but the sequence leading up to it is so well-timed that it earned a deserved laugh from me. It ends on a note of absurdity nearly comparable to that of Fight Club, but achieves in a much more understated, and difficult to articulate, way.