Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 152 minutes (that’s 2 hours 32 minutes, in case you can’t convert)
It would be difficult to find a movie this anticipated in recent years. The overwhelming, somewhat surprising success of Batman Begins, the tragic passing of Heath Ledger, and what I am crowning the (any of the many) greatest trailer of all time have lead to the anticipation and hype for this film being unrivaled by any that I may have ever seen. And the movie strikes gold, dare I say even surpassing the hype and my lofty, seemingly out of reach expectations.
Christopher Nolan is not new to directing spectacular films. Memento (perhaps my favorite movie of the decade so far), Batman Begins and The Prestige are all fantastic, and The Dark Knight will undoubtedly be headlining his career marquee as he moves on. Nolan engages us into the developmental scenes, creating an atmosphere so tense, so unbearable that we cannot look away. The action sequences are gripping and realistic, limiting the use of CGI to enhancement instead of creation (please take note Spielberg). The pacing makes this 2 hour 35 minute movie seemingly take an hour. You long for more, you want to stay in the theater another hour, or two. But only the theater, you don’t dare want to make your way into Nolan’s world. Nolan has created a Gotham that seems so vast and empty, yet so impossible to escape.
The film stems from a screenplay written by the brothers Nolan. After writing the short story that lead to Memento, brother Jonathan has a free pass to do what he pleases in my books. They have succeeded where other movies have failed; the multi-character plot that doomed the Spiderman franchise is worked to perfection, the unworldly gadgetry that makes some Bond movies feel cartoonish is simply another aspect of the world created in The Dark Knight. The script is fairly loyal (from what I’ve researched and read) to the story of Batman. The Nolan’s give us characters that are deep, thoughtful and though-provoking; each is developed well enough to have an entire movie based around. But none of this could have been translated to film if it weren’t for the amazing performances from top to bottom.
The movie revolves around Batman and The Joker, but the film could not have worked without an array of supporting performers to help carry the massive load asked upon them. Morgan Freeman is his usual, solid, mild-mannered self as Lucias Fox. He gives you the impression that he knows more about Batman than even Bruce Wayne himself, and perhaps that is a good thing. Michael Caine is easily the most client-involved butler in the history of cinema, and gives another rock-solid performance as Alfred. Gary Oldman was especially good in transitioning Lt. James Gordon to a larger role than his previous in Batman Begins. If our sympathies are to be directed at one character, it is undoubtedly him. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a nice step (LEAP) up from Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, who was, in my opinion, the largest blemish of Batman Begins.
The only character question mark that I really had going into the film was Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/TwoFace (if this was a spoiler for you, you fail). Eckhart brings a necessary likeability to Harvey Dent, after all, he is the face(s) (<== pun!) of a “new” Gotham. I am a fan of Eckhart, based solely on Thank You For Smoking, and he hits a winner here with Harvey Dent. His true talents emerge as the movie progresses, but this is obvious, because, after all, Harvey does undergo some changes. I look forward to seeing more of TwoFace in the next Batman film (assuming Nolan signs on for another). In Harvey Dent we see a great sense of rightousness, a well-intended man who cannot be corrupted. This quickly and seamlessly shifts to a man driven by vengeance, a twisted, skewed view of his new reality, and most importantly: chance.
I stand by my statement that Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne ever put on screen. He singlehandedly revived a failing franchise in Batman Begins, and has now cemented himself as the top Caped Crusader. There is something inherently humorous about Batman’s need to disguise his voice (cue Bale’s deep, intimidating Batman voice here), but while this was a distraction for the other Batmen (?) it is simply another aspect of Bale’s character. Through both Bruce Wayne and Batman we see that Batman is not our common superhero. He is hanging by a thread between his own views of what is right and borderline insanity. Batman has flaws that Bale has brought to the forefront, which is primarily what sets Batman apart from run-of-the-mill superheroes. Bale is able to bring justification and motive to the over-the-top actions of Bruce Wayne and the capers of Batman. There is an inherent struggle for Wayne, and this struggle is exploited to the fullest by The Joker.
Which brings us to the star of the show: The Joker. And let’s just say, he wouldn’t have it any other way. There couldn’t have been more buzz surrounding this character and its (note its, not his) portrayal by (the late, tragically) Heath Ledger. And all skeptics should have been quieted mere minutes into the movie. The Joker gives us what may be the most memorable, haunting entrance of any character in the history of cinema (there I go, throwing that phrase around again); and let’s just say he does a pretty nifty magic trick with a pencil. But this is just the beginning. We have seen other Joker renditions, but this is far and away the greatest. I am as big of a Nicholson fan as you will find, but Ledger’s portrayal makes Jack’s seem downright juvenile. This Joker is undoubtedly insane, twisted, demented, and psychotic, and most terrifying of all, he is the most intellegent man in Gotham. To say he is one step ahead is an understatement. All of this, all of his actions, with no apparent motivation. Chaos, anarchy are his motivation. And that’s the scariest thought of all. With his patented, cynical grin, The Joker creates a parallel between himself and Batman. After all, the Bat is just “a freak! like me…” At points throughout the film, I found myself laughing along with the maniacal joker, becoming a part of his sick, twisted games. The mere fact that I was that enthralled by a character is a nod to Ledger, whose performance will become as, if not more legendary than villains past such as Hannibal Lector. I find that my review cannot do this performance justice at all, and Batman fan or not, Ledger’s performance has brought this film, and perhaps this genre, to a whole different level. It’s not too much to call The Joker dark poetry in motion.
Going along with all from above, credit must be given to James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer as well, for putting together a demonic, melodic score to accompany this movie of just the same.
In summation, this movie does what we all hoped it would do. It transcends the comic book adaptation genre, moving into waters less explored. If lumped into the superhero category, it is hands down the greatest film of its kind, but that would seem to hold it back. The Dark Knight should be included amongst the tops of all time Epic Crime films. I’m thinking Heat, Goodfellas, films of that nature. Also, I’d like to throw my name into the “Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor” ring. Not to commemorate him for his untimely passing, but to honor a performance that will go down in history as one of the most haunting, spectacular of all time. See this movie once, twice, three times. It is the best of the year. But feel free to laugh along with The Joker, why so serious?
5 out of 5 stars
Oh man. I got goosebumps just recalling this film.
One of the more prevalent themes in Batman Begins was muttered by Rachel Dawes as she tells Bruce Wayne “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”
In The Dark Knight, the choices that are imposed upon Batman and other characters in some of the most impossible situations bring out their true selves. The instigator of these choices is the character that is surrounded with Oscar buzz, Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker. The truth is that the Oscar considerations are well deserved. Ledger is perfect in his role as a demented genius that is more than just a villain. The Joker is a test for the City of Gotham’s morality. He’s the last thing standing between the city’s belief in good and complete chaos. He is, even as he states in the film “an agent of chaos.”
Ledger gives this performance not with overacting or plainly going crazy (sorry Jack), but he creates this character that is tortured and obviously has a death wish. The Joker is someone who is actually paralleled to Batman in the film, the only real difference being the Joker’s desire for destruction, wanting to watch the city burn and Batman’s desire to save the city from it’s own destruction.
While the Joker may be the catalyst for everything that happens in The Dark Knight, the movie is certainly not a one-man show. Everyone appears in this film for the exact right amount of time. The supporting characters such as Michael Caine playing Alfred and Gary Oldman as Lieutenant/Commissioner Gordon receive their moments in the film and they both execute their roles nicely. Of course it has been difficult for those two particular actors to give a bad performance so this wasn’t very surprising.
One performance that was surprising was that of Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent. His transformation in this film is brought about in a heart-wrenching manner and the violence and anger that appears in Harvey Dent after losing everything is chilling.
The logical way that the film turns Harvey Dent into two-face is a further display of one of the little things I like about Christopher Nolan’s vision of batman. There’s a reason and an explanation behind every tool that the hero has, behind every character, behind every crime. In the previous Batman films (Forever and Batman and Robin) there would be new suits (fully-equipped with nipples on the outside by the way) for no reason except that the people making the film wanted a different look. In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne gets a new suit because he wanted to be able to turn his head and become more agile. It’s that simple and quick to add an explanation for a new suit. It’s those little things that gave the first film believability to the world of Gotham and it was the little things in The Dark Knight that remained consistent that made it a perfect film.
Christian Bale remains solid in the roles of both Bruce Wayne and Batman in this edition of the Batman franchise. After this film he is, by far, the best onscreen Batman. This is unlike the argument in the James Bond franchise where Daniel Craig is possibly the best Bond ever but it’s too early to put him ahead of Sean Connery. The earlier carriers of the role of the caped crusader, Adam West and Michael Keaton, aren’t even close to Bale anymore. Every direction he takes with this role makes sense. The way he distinguishes himself between Batman and Bruce Wayne is nothing short of brilliant.
Ledger and Bale feed off of each other in the film, Ledger’s insanity and corrupted methods of madness as the joker allow the incorruptible Batman/Wayne character to appear truly conflicted as he is force to make decisions about how far he is willing to go in his attempt to clean up Gotham. In contrast Bale’s incorruptible, rather straightforward portrayal of the Wayne/Batman combo allows Ledger’s Joker to remain terrifying yet give of a sense of morality and purpose.
The Dark Knight had loads of potential and loads of buzz and it’s not very often that a film takes that potential and hype and surpasses it completely. The Dark Knight is one of those films with the combination of the astounding action sequences (when the semi-truck flipped over the audience clapped and gasped in awe) great performances, and excellent storytelling through the direction. It simply had the potential inside to be one of the most memorable films in history and what everyone (actors, directors, producers, etc.) did to make this film defines it as one of the best film experiences in cinematic history.
Kevin’s Rating: 5 out of 5