Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Dark Knight



the large amount of box office dollars raked in by The Dark Knight in the three weeks it has been in cinemas around the world would suggest that very few reviews or comments need to be added at this stage, really. that said, however, as i have been following the making of it for a year or so, i might as well give one final (possibly large) post to the subject, especially as i have now seen it!

for a spoiler free experience, read only these bits between the landscape posters, really. everything after that might contain stuff you would rather not know if you are one of those who have yet to get around to watching it.

the best way i can think of to go spoiler free here is to give short answers to general, broad questions. here we go!

is it any good? yes.

is it the masterpiece that all claim? well, it's as good as all other Christopher Nolan films, which are of a formidable, high standard.

is it really 150 minutes long? oh yes. go to the bathroom before the film starts, and take a coke or something to drink.

family viewing? no, no, NO!!! this film has high age certificates around the world for good reasons.

Oscar for Heath? well, he would be on a shortlist at least, but as we are still a few months off from the studios releasing their Oscar contenders, too tough to call. more in the spoiler section!

right, consider the rest of this post as having *** POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD ***




a number of reviews have compared The Dark Knight to the two kings of sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather Part II. they are right to do so, although few bother to explain why. let me have a bash at it.

the premise, and many would say the key to success, of both The Empire Strikes Back and Godfather Part II was that good which had won a battle against evil (broadly in the latter) had not done quite enough to win the war, and evil returned stronger in this installment to remind them of that. or, if you will, good guys lose. in Empire, the evil forces had their main source of destruction (the 'Death Star') removed, but they still had the will to conquer and command. in Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone wished to become legitimate, but the trappings of power and those not quite prepared to forgive and forget led to further, if not ultimate, corruption of the character. this latter interpretation is best if you, rather wisely, pretend that Part III was all a bad dream and does not exist.

this would be pretty much the trend followed by the makers of The Dark Knight. it all starts off rather well - Gotham is now a city which has been given a light of hope in the form of a mysterious vigilante of the name Batman. he had removed the most formidable mob boss in the city, has inspired others, in particular a public servant called Harvey Dent, to fight for and win back the city. the other organized crime gangs lurked still, certainly, but their money supply was just about to be cut off for good thanks to the solid work conducted by Batman and his one trusted man in the corrupt Gotham police force, Jim Gordon, and they were effectively running scared.

and then, as a peaceful existence is considering descending across the city, a rouge, fearless criminal, known only as The Joker, turns up to take advantage of criminals who live with a slight sense of fear and citizens who live with a slight sense of hope.


the above synopsis is played out across two and a half hours of breathtaking, visually stunning movie entertainment. just forget all this "is it a super hero, comic book, graphic novel" type nonsense and debate doing the rounds on the interwebnet these days. it probably is all three to fans of all three genres, but in the end all that matters is that it is a damn good morality play with the lines of good and evil being distinctly blurred.

The promo line on the posters, welcome to a world without rules, is a touch inaccurate. the world of The Dark Knight is one where expectations are turned on their head for little reason beyond amusement, where there are indeed rules, but so few try to uphold them that it becomes easy for those who discard them with passion to convince others to do the same. in fact, mindful of the conclusion of the film, it is a world where rules do exist, and have to be enforced and respected for the greater good, no matter how noble those who suffer from them may be.

as with any film adaptation of this nature, there is the great risk of it all going wrong. The Dark Knight could have so easily taken itself a bit too seriously and made a mess of it (Ang Lee's awful Hulk, the disappointing Spiderman 3), just as it could have been a bit too relaxed with assuming the audience would quite happy watch whatever they lazily did with familiar characters (Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull).

neither of those scenarios or worse happens, thanks mainly to the audacious talent Christopher Nolan has been blessed with. he is a gifted filmmaker of note (Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, Insomnia - where's the bad film?), and must have had quite a battle to get his distinctly mature vision of what this film should be accepted to be financed as the studio's box office hope for the year.

this talent and vision must have helped him in attracting the grade A cast for the project, not to mention the great performances he extracted from them. one in particular, of course, has been the subject of conversation for 7 or so months now. it's all to easy to forget how, when the actor playing The Joker was announced, many, myself included, balked and thought it was a mistake or some kind of practical joke.....

OK, the Heath Ledger factor. Heath's sad departure from our world made this final performance all the more likely to receive a warm reception, to the point where after the first screening of the film there were demands to give him an acting Oscar for it straight away.

Heath Ledger's performance as the deranged, schizophrenic and ultimately irresistible Joker is indeed formidable, and well worthy of the praise and applause given. His performance is as eccentric as it is exceptional, and pretty much as a consequence of it his character tends to dominate the film despite limited on-screen presence, rather reminiscent of Brando in The Godfather.

so, should he get the Oscar? Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is just as good as Anthony Hopkins in the silence of the lambs, Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects and, dare I say it, Gene Hackman in Unforgiven. i have thought long and hard for a reason why Heath should not get some recognition for his part in this film, and there is none that comes to my mind. if his performance is not awarded at the next Oscar ceremony, then it can only be because one hell of a performance by someone else is locked away in a studio somewhere, awaiting release towards the end of the year.


that said, the real character of interest for me was that of Harvey Dent, played magnificently by Aaron Eckhart. the rise and fall of this character is the real arc of the film. all faith is placed into him as a symbol of hope by those that wish to reclaim Gotham from evil, to the extent that when his fall from grace comes, some sacrifice themselves to maintain the illusion that he is the saviour of the city, the "white knight" if you will.

it's a bit of a shame that Aaron Eckhart's fine, restrained performance is radically overshadowed by Heath Ledger, really. hopefully as time goes by and the film gets reappraised, the majority will notice Aaron's work here and give him a great deal of credit for it. i would imagine, and indeed hope, that some seriously quality scripts will be landing on his desk going forward from this; i will be actively looking out for his next screen appearance.

as for the rest of the cast, well, like Aaron, poor old Christian Bale tends to get forgotten about. how good is he? very. he has the Bruce Wayne / Batman split personified. there's a moment where he is just plain old Bruce Wayne, with no particular hidden Batman agenda, and you for a moment forget it's the same actor. that's a neat trick. the bad guy tends to be the more interest part and character in a film, sure, but when you have a complex good guy who may be somewhat ambiguous in regards of the high moral ground it's just as fascinating.

as for the remainder of the cast, Sir Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are not there as mere token, established actors giving a bit of credibility. they have minor roles, true, but they don't just tread water or go through the motions. and as for Gary Oldman, well, what do you want from me? yet again he does not disappoint with another sterling acting job. the subtle work he does as Jim Gordon, the straight, morally upright face of order that accepts rules tend to have to bend for the greater good perhaps contributes the most to the convincing manner in which the whole tale is constructed. if for some bizarre reason the film were to be focused on the character of Jim Gordon as played by Gary Oldman, i dare say that it would do for police recruitment what Top Gun did for Navy recruitment in the 80's.

i would like to stress again that this film is not for the young. whereas the violence and graphic detail onscreen is somewhat restrained, the psychological elements are dark and disturbing. as you know i don't buy in to this idea of film in specific or the "arts" in general causing or inspiring violent acts, but i do very much believe that they can leave some profound marks on a mind; that's the whole point. The Dark Knight certainly achieves this, and should not be watched by anyone who has yet to reach their early teen years at the least.

with all of four months of 2008 left, The Dark Knight currently sits comfortably as the best film of the year, or at least as an equal to the magnificent Wall-E, but for somewhat obvious and rather different reasons. i can't say anything more than go see it and, if for some reason you have reservations about doing so, let them go and watch it anyway.



be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!
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