Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

“The Dark Knight”

USA. 2008. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Based on characters created by Bob Kane. Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Curmen, Ron Dean, Cillian Murphy, Chin Han and Eric Roberts.

Rating: ★★★★

From the very opening minutes of Christopher Nolan's brilliant The Dark Knight, I quickly shed off the feeling that I was watching a “superhero” movie. If there is a movie that can truly be labeled as transcendent, it is this sequel that elevates itself to an epic crime story and a deep, heartbreaking tragedy. The genre’s emotional and philosophical capacities have been rewritten.

The 2005 Batman franchise reboot, Batman Begins chronicled the journey of Gotham City billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in the aftermath of his parents’ murders and his ultimate decision to channel his anguish over that loss into a determination to fight his city's crime and corruption. The Dark Knight puts that decision to the ultimate test with the introduction of The Joker, who is played by the late great Heath Ledger in one of the most nerve-wracking villain performances ever. What makes him more menacing is that he crafts diabolical situations that build into ethical tightropes that cause the Batman and others to perhaps compromise their very own core values to protect the city. The Joker is not clownish or jocose anymore but, as his entrance with the disappearing pencil trick firmly establishes, he is just plain scary.

Batman himself is already drawing massive scorn from Gotham’s citizens who believe he is nothing more than just another vigilante despite that he has secretly been working closely with good cop, Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to clean up the streets. The Joker is disgusted at how the mobsters fear their days may be numbered and, contrary to Bruce’s initial surmise that he must be looking for some quick reward, his only purpose is to inject pure criminal evil into the city and humiliate all those who uphold justice including Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce’s high-tech guru and Wayne Corp’s board director, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes from the first film). As Bruce’s loyal butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) says to Bruce at one point, he is one of the “people who just wants to watch the world burn.”

Such a storyline could tempt the filmmakers to make the movie into an overt villain-oriented showcase, which was the crucial drawback of Jack Nicholson’s flashy version of the Joker in Tim Burton’s original Batman. The poetically written screenplay by director Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan makes sure that Ledger’s rendition occupies just the appropriate amount of space in the overall terrific ensemble and canvas. Every performance is exceedingly good from Eckhart’s Dent finding his moral rectitude progressively scarred by tragedy to Gary Oldman’s Gordon who must deal with the increasing emotional toll of remaining the sanest and most upstanding cop in the city. All of this, of course, leads back to Bruce Wayne on whose face, as portrayed by Bale, we can see the psychic trauma this new breed of crime is causing as he finds himself capable of doing things he never thought he would do.

Unavoidably, it is hard to shake off the shadow of the late Ledger, especially considering the rumors that his extremely committed effort to immerse into his character led to the deep depression that may have indirectly claimed his life. While that may philosophically bring into question the potentially severe tolls of intense, method acting, from the frightening makeup to the affected accent indicative of the wound-inflicted smile on the Joker’s face, this remarkable accomplishment Ledger has left on the screen will no doubt catapult him up to the rank of other similar legends like James Dean and Bruce Lee who tragically never fully lived out their career highlight. If, come Oscar® season next year, he becomes the first posthumous acting nominee since Massimo Troisi in 1994's Il Postino or even the first posthumous acting winner since Peter Finch in 1976's Network, it will be far from a vote of compassion.

While the story is powerfully propelled into near biblical proportions under the reins of director Christopher Nolan, the film also responds to the slight common criticism of the first film in its action choreography. Like the first film, Nolan uses special effects sparingly and only when necessary and the shooting style of his action is much more confident in resorting less to quick-cutting and letting the camera remain mostly static to capture the rousing, old-fashioned stunts and fight scenes filmed in Chicago (with a brief, thrilling detour to Hong Kong). And if you think the trailers have already revealed the big money shots like the gigantic semi being flipped over or the Batpod, rest assured the complete ingenuity of their triggers is not given away and the extended sequences in full are as pulsating as any crime picture from the golden age of the 70s or Michael Mann's Heat (which Nolan cites as a major influence).

The Dark Knight is not only an improvement over the already great Batman Begins but a most ambitious marriage of allegorical artistry and pop entertainment (and, for once, the movie’s gargantuan hype and record smashing box office results are truly wholly deserved). It also represents the peak of this decade’s continuing renaissance of superhero movies that began with the classical entertainment of the Spider-Man movies. Now, with a superhero who resides in a very real, fallen, crime-ridden world like ours, The Dark Knight expands and deepens the Batman persona to even spiritual levels to explore how a troubled hero must learn to adapt to impossible sacrifices lest he quickly succumb to pride and villainy.


Anonymous said...

Awesome review. You're the next Rubert. Seriously. Please start reviewing for the local paper, at the very least.

Cinexcellence said...

Hey. I'm hosting a film blog-a-thon on my site:

If you could post a link to it on your site that would be awesome. And feel free to participate!

tapati said...

In the film “The Dark Knight” has a Powerful acting, powerful action, huge IMAX sequences which give this Batman a great big commanding feel. I really want to watch it on the Big Big Screen.

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Stephen Kinsey said...

Very good review, well done. Haven't seen the movie myself yet but looking forward to watching it.

Gary said...

I agree with tapati great acting however little plot it didn't have the same effortless flow as the first it seemed staggered the story just didn't work for me.

Haven said...

I didn't like it, the story wasn't there it didn't have the same weight and depth as the first film. Shame, though I believed it was hyped up to much which never helps a film.