Sunday, April 26, 2015

Movie Review - The Dark Knight

I wrote this review waaaaay back in 2008. But I thought it might be fun to dig up and post here.

The Dark Knight
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Spent a couple of hours in the movie theater today, for some much-needed fantasy fulfillment and dissociation from reality. I found The Dark Knight to be a pleasure to watch from beginning to end.

The art direction is beautiful, overflowing with the same attention to detail that marked the first film. Christopher Nolan's Gotham breathes. It's a decaying and gritty landscape populated by legions of the hopeless. And it is evident that Nolan loves Gotham's haunted hero as much as Batman's biggest fans. Nolan's dedication to sharing his vision of the Dark Knight with us comes through every frame. Nolan continues to explore some of the same themes: justice vs. vengeance, madness, dubious morality, and the personal cost that a lone hero must pay for undaunted courage in the face of evil. It's all good stuff... and yes, I'm a sucker for more cerebral writing. Give me all the soulful introspection, the laden glances, the tragic flashbacks, and I'm happy. I like a hero with soul, and a darker soul striving for light, or a soul of light being drowned in darkness is very interesting to see. I think it's the loneliness that gets me. I've seen that loneliness, felt it. My heart follows the story of this wounded character and I hope... not just for a cessation of pain, but for redemption, for triumph. 

My observations on performance:

Christian Bale is hands-down the best Batman so far; I don't know too many people who have argued that. Nolan's script seems a little weighty at times, giving Bale (and the other characters) quite a bit of moral (or rhetorical) discussion to deliver, but a comic book movie with something more to bite into is refreshing. The most recent comic book/superhero films I'd seen before The Dark Knight were Ironman, The Hulk, and Hancock, all of which I enjoyed... and true, Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne doesn't seem to be having as much fun as Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, but The Batman has always been a bit of a downer anyway, right? Besides, this is the second act, and it's dark. Anyway, Nolan's treatment of Batman has big shoes (steel-toed boots?) to fill, and Bale fills them perfectly. 

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes is a fine replacement for Katie Holmes. I personally find her more interesting to watch and more believable. She seems real. Like a woman we could bump into at the grocers. We like her. We're invested in her welfare, and Gyllenhaal gives us that.

Gary Oldman is the perfect Jim Gordon. It's satisfying to see him in such a wholesome role, and the fact that he looks just like the Tim Sale and Frank Miller incarnations of Gordon is fun. There's a point in Gordon's story that makes the audience cheer... you'll know what I mean.

Michael Cane's Alfred functions well as Wayne's conscience, and his dry humor keeps the audience chuckling. Morgan Freeman's character has the same function, but Cane.... mmm! I just love listening to any line that man has to deliver. 

The unexpected highlight of the film for me is Heath Ledger, a kind of maniacal bright spot in the dark universe of Nolan's Gotham. As The Batman's arch-nemesis, Ledger cackles and crackles with nihilistic energy, like a miniature black hole pulling everything off-kilter. His Joker minces, gambols, and pirouettes through the script, seeming to dance the tightrope of insane genius with effortless ease. There are many points in the film where the audience is laughing, but not necessarily because what we're seeing is truly funny... More so for the release of tension that nervous laughter gives us during some of the Joker's more horrifyingly unanticipated antics. Don't get me wrong, I don't admire the Joker, a man who destroys just because he can, or as Alfred says, just to watch the world burn. What I admire is Ledger's ability to capture the cold-blooded menace, the turning on a dime between jest and threat, the terrifying unpredictability that is the Joker of the comics. It was a performance surprisingly nuanced and I'm sure nothing about it was accidental. The way Ledger voiced the Joker will be following me for a while as well, probably inserted into some of my stranger dreams. Yes, a performance very well done, and besides making for a riveting villain, has me regretting once more the loss of such talent. This should have been a small highlight in a long career of profound and exciting performances, instead of what it is: a somewhat bleak epilogue to this young actor's body of work.

The Batman has forever been my favorite, and Christopher Nolan does justice to The Dark Knight. The film was everything I hoped and I hope you like it as much as I did.

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