Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

When the hype about The Dark Knight began I was skeptical. I knew after Batman Begins that everyone in the production was capable of making astoundingly good films, but I thought people were probably over-hyping Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker a bit as it was not a posthumous role, and that there was little chance that you could surpass a perfect film like Batman Begins.

I was wrong.

The Dark Knight deserves every bit of praise it has received and more. This is not a comic book movie, this is a crime epic that tells a tale of a hero who has to make impossible choices in the name of doing what is right and defeating villains that are so evil they cannot completely be defeated no matter what he does. It is the most real crime film in that sense since Godfather and it pits a clown and a bat against each other.

We pick up with Batman approximately a year after he has begun to reform Gotham. The right things are starting to fall in place: the police are slightly less corrupt, Gordon has been promoted and is working with the Batman, Harvey Dent has been voted the new DA and is cleaning up the city, the mob is running scared, etc. Batman is creating inroads to change that are now taking root on the social level – the people of Gotham are trying to change their city.

The problem is that as Gordon predicted at the end of the first film escalation has occurred. Batman has begun to clean the streets, but created a criminal so devious that no one can predict his actions – the Joker. He has hits the scene hard and is at first regarded as a crazy know-nothing by the entire criminal world and Batman but soon has the entire city running even more petrified than before; he’s trying to create chaos and sees no one he should side with even amongst the criminals. He just wants to see the anarchy he creates play out. Singlehandedly he has made Batman question his position as Gotham’s protector, and made the underworld terrified of not just Batman, but him as well.

This is an artfully layered story crafted by people that obviously know that the Joker is the embodiment of everything that Batman strives to quell. The Joker wants to create chaos for the sake of chaos and Batman wants to create order for the sake of peace. They are polar opposites and will forever remain in struggle as Batman will not kill the Joker as that would change what he stands for, and the Joker will not kill Batman because he’d lose the best thrill of his life.

The Dark Knight is the best film about that struggle between being the needed hero and the wanted ideal that has ever been made. Bruce Wayne struck out to be an incorruptible ideal, only to find that striving to be incorruptible, to have rules, has made him vulnerable to the people he is trying to fight against.

I am the first to admit that when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker I doubted Christopher Nolan’s skills at casting. I could see so many other actors working better as the Joker than Heath – and I was wrong. When you watch The Dark Knight Heath disappears and the only person present is Joker and he is everything that ever terrified you about the Joker. He has no rules, he is brilliant and scheming, he would do anything, and his greatest joy is watching the anarchy he creates. The Joker is such a perfect character that I want to see him in another Batman film, but I don’t know how you can recast a perfect performance. While watching Heath, no one even thinks of comparing him to Jack Nicholson – there is simply no comparison.

Just as phenomenal is Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s new, tough DA Harvey Dent. Eckhart steps perfectly into the shoes of the man who dances around the line he upholds until he tragically takes the path of Icarus and flies too close to the sun…and plummets into the darkness he was fighting against by becoming Two Face. No one can blame him for his turn –he has lost everything, but by letting his pain take over he further destroys everything he stood for as Harvey Dent. It’s not an easy role, to go from being lauded as the white knight of Gotham to the criminal that decides the fate of his victims on the flip of a coin, but Eckhart makes it natural and just dark enough that we know that Dent is not coming back.

However, Christian Bale cannot be ignored in this film. His performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne is still why the movie remains so believable. He is able to take the character from brash playboy to lurking superhero in only a few minutes of screen time. The audience can see Bruce Wayne’s conscious lay heavier on him with every act that the Joker perpetrates.

The only detractor to this film for me is that it was shot in Chicago and you can tell. Gone is my beautiful yet-unlike-the-real-world Gotham and inserted is Chicago. I don’t know why they made this artistic choice and it is forgivable as most of Gotham is destroyed in Batman Begins but I miss it.

To wrap up my review I have only one thing to say. If I were on the Oscar committee Christian Bale, Robert Downey Jr., Aaron Eckhart and Heath Ledger would all be nominated for various Oscars – yes, for “comic book” films.

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan
Bruce Wayne/Batman: Christian Bale
Rachel: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Joker: Heath Ledger
Harvey Dent/Two Face: Aaron Eckhart
Jim Gordon: Gary Oldman
Alfred: Michael Caine
Lucious Fox: Morgan Freeman

Bruce Wayne: People are dying. What would you have me do?
Alfred Pennyworth: Endure. You can be the outcast. You can make the choice that no one else will face - the right choice. Gotham needs you.

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