The Dark Knight
There’s been a lot of advance press concerning this new Batman, The Dark Knight flick. And I know a lot of you… well a lot of you probably already saw it. But for the 2 people in the civilized world who have yet to see it, and are sitting on their couch, reminiscing of the good old Jack Nicholson days of the Joker, wondering whether or not the film is worth all the positive press it’s receiving. Wondering whether or not Heath Ledger’s Joker really is Oscar worthy. Wondering if it does in fact live up to the hype. Well wonder no more, Brodie-maniacs. Cause as a person who actually saw the film, and as a well respected, admired, and not very well paid film critic, everything you’ve heard is not only true, but also a vast understatement of the true greatness of the film. I only give it 5 stars because that’s how many my usual rating system would allow. On the IMDb, I gave it 10.
Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman, this time fighting a mysterious and demented criminal known only as The Joker (Heath Ledger). Aiding him in his fight against the scarred madman are his trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine), the now Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), wise businessman Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Bruce’s former girlfriend, A.D.A. Rachel Dawes (this time played by a real actress, Maggie Gyllenhaal).
One thing the Batman franchise as a whole, from the comics to the movies to the animated shows and movies, has always done is blurred the line between hero and villain. Batman is a hero, but he’s not a clear cut hero (like his DC counterpart, Superman). He fudges the moral and ethical line to take down the bad guy, and makes no effort to show remorse for doing so. So he’s the hero, but he’s no Boy Scout.
On the flipside of that, the villain isn’t necessarily pure evil. The way John and Chris Nolan wrote the character, and to an even greater extent, how Ledger (Lords of Dogtown) played The Joker, presents the villain as doing villainous things, as being a morally devoid entity, as being chaos incarnate, but it’s not entirely clear that his motives are all that wrong. Sure his methods are destructive, murderous and utterly criminal. But is chaos for the sake of chaos all that wrong?
And that’s the magic of Chris Nolan’s directing and writing. He upholds, skewers and satirizes the traditional comic book notion of Hero vs. Villain, all at the same time. To intensify the point even more, there’s Dent’s downward spiral from beam of hope D.A. to corrupt and deranged Two-Face, fascinatingly portrayed by Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking). Eckhart portrays the cool, confidence of a D.A. who champions the fall of organized crime. And for the first two acts, you believe in Harvey Dent as the symbol of all that is good in Gotham. Then, after certain events, he begins his rapid descent into cynicism and madness. And to a character shift like that takes a special kind of moxie. And Eckhart exudes the talant to do so.
But make no mistake, there is one clear hero amongst the villains and near-heroes- Lt. James Gordon. Oldman (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) brings gravitas to what has previously been nothing more than an ancillary character. And his desire to do good and keep the people of Gotham safe is the shining beacon of good in a city shrouded in moral ambiguity.
It would seem that the three supporters of Batman are the only three truly “good guys.” Gordon, who we already talked about, but there’s also Caine’s (The Prestige) Alfred Pennyworth as the guiding voice of reason for Bruce. And there’s Freeman’s (Wanted) Lucius Fox, who, in a very poignant scene, objects to Batman’s methods, offers to help, then tenders his resignation due to his objections. Proving that standing by one’s ethic code is more important than the alleged greater good.
Nolan’s direction was perfect. He paces the movie just right. You never look at your watch, in the entire two hours and thirty minutes, wondering when it’s going to be over. In fact, once the credits start rolling, you’re asking yourself “Wait… it’s over? No, there has to be more.” Part of that is due to Nolan’s deep understanding of how to construct his characters in their action sequences.
I’ve saved the elephant in the living room for last. Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. If you’re a regular follower of my blog, you’ll remember that I’ve been ranting and raving about his performance since the first teaser hit theatres back in December. And I did the appropriate memorial page when he passed in January. So it may seem like people have been fawning over his performance on the merit that he did pass away.
But oh how you would be wrong, if that’s your mentality. Ledger digs way deep down to find the true essence of The Joker. He’s a mystery. He’s an enigma. And he is the personification of pure insanity, pure chaos. He exists to create anarchy. Ledger takes Joker’s lack of real purpose and motivation to exemplify himself as a counterpoint to Christian Bale’s Batman. The performance is not only the best cinematic villain ever (take that Hans Grueber), but it is also one of the most nuanced and perfect performances ever committed to film.
Ledger’s performance is completely Oscar worthy. Ledger lost himself in the role, and it is pure acting, at it’s core. And there are plenty of other aspects to this film that are Oscar worthy. It is not only the perfect super-hero movie, but it’s a perfect crime drama epic, oddly reminiscent of Goodfellas and The Godfather.
I give it 5 stars, because it truley deserves all 5 of them, and then some.
– Brodie Mann