I am seriously disappointed that I’m not the one who came up with this, but website “The Wrap” (I don’t know what it is; I googled it) wrote an article in February of this year on something that I was going to write about this week: The Bat Pack.
The Bat Pack, meaning the team of actors (plus cinematographer and art designer) who Nolan frequently collaborates with. Yes – it’s an obvious riff on the previously existing Rat Pack, Brat Pack, Frat Pack, etc.
Unfortunately, I think the above-linked-to article fails to do anything beyond give it a catchy name. I think that you can look at this crowd and extend it the fact that the actors who Nolan prefers to work with are gradually becoming the most respected actors working today. The older and more established among them are Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, arguably two of the greatest living actors, but every one of the younger actors has also been in other incredible films within the last several years. Marion Cotillard just proved her abilities in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris; Tom Hardy is in three films being released in 2011 and another three in 2012; Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gradually gone from child TV actor in the 90s to star of Brick in 2005 to 500 Days of Summer in 2009 to The Dark Knight Rises next summer; and Cillian Murphy is tremendous in everything, and is not only a frequent choice for Nolan, but also for Danny Boyle (the Slumdog Millionaire guy, who direct Murphy in 28 Days Later and Sunshine.)
These actors aren’t just the cornerstone of Nolan’s films, but they are the cornerstone of film today. These are some of the greatest working actors and actresses, and in many cases their abilities were not fully realized until cast in a Nolan film.
Consider what happens for members of the Bat Pack after joining the team. As said previously, only Caine and Freeman really had established careers before acting in Batman Begins. (Liam Neeson is also a fantastic actor, obviously, but so far he has only been in one Nolan film and seems to generally be less discerning than other members of the Bat Pack.)
Gordon-Levitt showed he could be in an action movie in Inception. Cillian Murphy proved he could take his charm in a more malicious direction as Scarecrow. Tom Hardy first showed he could be a charming action star, and is now proving his versatility by being the villainous Bane. Marion Cotillard practically played a dual role in Inception, switching between trying to stab Leo with a kitchen knife in half her scenes while wandering about holding hands with him in the other half.
Nolan has two incredible abilities. The first is that he can direct his actors in ways they have never been considered – really, who in the 90s would have guessed that in the following decade both Robin Williams and Heath Ledger would deliver their finest roles… as serial killers? Christopher Nolan saw the possibility and made it happen. Not only that, but he can take powerful actors and actresses and insert them into far smaller roles than would seem appropriate in a different film – such as Cillian Murphy not showing up until an hour and a half into Inception, or Caine always playing roles where he just watches and comments on the plot. (Caine is seriously such a non-contributor that it seems like he sits back and watches major characters get killed in every Nolan film he’s in.)
Even Bale himself would not be where he is without being first cast in Batman Begins. When talks first surfaced about him being Batman, he was disregarded due to it being “hard to get excited about him playing Batman” because of his icy demeanor and lack of charm. Batman was the first classical hero portrayed by Bale, and it will be one of the roles he is always remembered for, in a way that Val Kilmer and George Clooney won’t be.
To an extent, I’m surprised that more film critics aren’t throwing around the expression “Bat Pack” more often, but I expect we will see it used in quite a few reviews and articles as The Dark Knight Rises is released in 2012.
Want more thoughts on The Bat Pack? See More Bruce Wayne Than Batman in The Dark Knight Rises?