Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008) Review

The Dark Knight
I Believe in Christopher Nolan

Director Christopher Nolan, who has made such films as Memento, Insomnia, and of course Batman Begins, has finally restored my faith in big budget studio directors. There are few directors in this day and age that really take moviemaking seriously and put real effort into their works. In the generation of trying to make the “quick buck”, movies are seemingly churned out only to make money from the masses, and only putting in a passable effort. The special thing about The Dark Knight is that not only does it include the popcorn thrills that come as a standard in movies, but it also delivers a richly layered and dense plot that takes Batman to new heights never thought to be achieved.

I will spare you the typical plot synopsis this time around because quite frankly, half the thrill is going in cold to this movie and not knowing what to expect next. Needless to say, the plot of The Dark Knight deals with Batman’s issues with the mafia, corrupt cops, copycats, unstable DAs, unsure opinions on himself, and one crazy badass clown. If you have been paying attention to all the hype surrounding Heath Ledger’s untimely death and his dark portrayal of the Joker then you need not worry, because he doesn’t just meet those expectations, he blows them to kingdom come. While watching his performance, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the first time I saw Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. From the mannerisms, facial expressions, and high-pitched voice, Ledger makes the Joker his own. The sick sense of humor that embodies this monster is conflicting because we aren’t sure whether we should be laughing or cringing in fear. He steals every scene he is in and is fascinating to watch.


That doesn’t mean that the other cast members slouch in their roles though, with Christian Bale confirming that he is the definitive Bruce Wayne/Batman. The movie questions the methods that Batman uses in instilling justice to Gotham, and whether he is more of a hero or problem for the city. Bale handles these frustrations very well and makes Wayne a much more complex and interesting character than ever before. Aaron Eckhart, someone who hasn’t floated on my radar till now, gives Harvey Dent just the right amount of heart and determination. His eventual transformation into Two Face (great makeup/CGI effects here) is also very believable, turning from Gothams honored “white knight” into a monster just as unstable as the Joker is. Maggie Gyllenhaal also gives Wayne/Dent love interest Rachael Dawes the strength and confusion that Katie Holmes couldn’t pull off previously. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Eric Roberts also give life to their small roles as Lucius Fox, Alfred, Jim Gordon, and mob boss Maroni respectively.

The film's script, written by Nolan and his brother Jonathon, is incredibly detailed in its depiction of criminals and heroes and the consequences that each bring with them. While many people believe Batman is a symbol of hope for Gotham’s crime fueled streets, some also question him because of the attraction that he gets from the gangs and people like the Joker. On first viewings all these plot threads and character relationships can seem pretty daunting (I highly recommend a second viewing), and some of it like a corrupt Asian businessman’s money laundering may look superfluous, but in actuality every scene has some form of effect on the plot and the characters actions later on. A few people have criticized that the movie could have ended at the two-hour mark right before Dent becomes Two-Face, but I believe that the final half hour is where the movie gets a lot of its resonance. One scene in particular in which Batman must break citizens rights in order to track the Joker, makes this much more than just a battle between good and evil, but also the fight between one person’s power over the free world. The final minutes of the movie where Batman must stop Two-Face’s acts of anarchy, are very powerful and moving and make us wonder where the next film will take the story.

Director Nolan manages to balance the films complex relationships and performances with virtuoso action sequences that use real and practical effects to achieve a certain level of reality. In addition to the opening bank robbery, the movie’s centerpiece action scene is an epic chase through the highway tunnels. The sheer amount of destruction and mayhem that occurs here, along with the introduction of the Bat pod, is enough to make action fans tingle with excitement and joy. Also, over twenty minutes of the film were filmed with IMAX cameras, so if you have the chance, then see it in IMAX.

It’s been a long time since I have seen a movie that has simultaneously thrilled, surprised, and made me think as The Dark Knight did. Excellent performances, complex criminal plots, and a dark sense of reality are what help this movie rise above the norm, and become a fully-fledged epic of modern cinema. Will it one day be considered a masterpiece? Only time will tell.


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