Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

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An unprecedented amount of hype surrounded the Dark Knight, and the aggressive marketing campaign, viral internet buildup, and mythic nature of Heath Ledger's final performance put the film in prime position to disappoint. The expectations were unheard of, yet, riding on Ledger's remarkable performance, Christopher Nolan's epic vision, and an inspired cast and crew, the Dark Knight beat the odds to meet and perhaps even exceed the cinematic and box office anticipation. The Dark Knight is to superhero films what the Godfather is to mob films, Apocalypse Now to war films, Scarface to mob films and Star Wars to science fiction. There are other great films in this genre, but the Dark Knight is the best, and the bar has clearly been raised. The story picks up where Batman Begins left off, with Gotham City in turmoil and Batman doing his part to restore justice to the city. Word comes along of a new powerful player in the crime scene who is getting under the skin of both the law enforcement and rival mobs, and goes by the name of the Joker. The ensuing battle between Batman, the Joker, and district attorney Harvey Dent involve sly backhanded negotiations, gripping fight and chase scenes, heists, twists, turns and more. Nolan deserves tremendous credit for writing an engaging plot that is sharp and fast despite running at two and a half hours, for capturing all of the performers at the best of their ability, and for framing the story within the beautiful Gothic imagery of Gotham City. The film was shot largely with cameras suited for IMAX, and although any big screen will do the film justice, the IMAX experience is one in itself. Christian Bale once again delivers a standout performance as Batman and Bruce Wayne, with the Wayne persona becoming a bit darker and more sadistic, channeling aspects of Bale's performance as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Aaron Eckhart, the wild card of the film, is excellent as Dent, embodying the public servant's noble and devious sides very believably. The supporting cast remains largely the same, except for a moderate improvement with Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel, and once again Freeman, Caine, and Oldman are spot-on. The film, of course, belongs to the late Heath Ledger. The maniacal and eccentric, yet painstakingly nuanced performance will go down as one of the best villains ever captured on film, haunting, and chill-inducing at times. The Joker has never been more entertaining, demented, but most of all, realistic. The Joker (or any of the characters) is no longer a cartoon character or a silly bad-guy with a big grin, but a twisted individual with a history and a reason for his insanity. The Dark Knight follows Batman Begins in that the tradition of hero versus bad-guy for its own sake is thrown out the window, and the reasons behind each character's motivations is explained to bring depth to the roles and circumstances. The performances and script aren't meant to be a thrill-ride; these characters and stories, like Batman Begins, pay homage to the original comic book writers intent of using fantasy as an allegory for the issues and circumstances the modern world faces. The film is loaded with symbolic imagery, and religious, governmental, and moral motifs. The attention to detail is remarkable, and the depth to which the Dark Knight can be dissected will thrill diehard comic book fans while drawing in many casual fans as well. There are times where the Dark Knight loses some of the ultra-realistic sense that dominated Batman Begins, leaning more toward traditional super hero movie action, but the powerful and unique performances and story seem to overshadow the film's flaws. The Dark Knight will have its place in history and pop culture for its box office successes and the media hype machine that surrounded it, but movie fans will remember it as the best of its kind, a film loaded with actors at their strongest, a writer/director capable of bringing an unforgettable vision to the screen, and a highly entertaining, yet entirely thought provoking film.

Good for: movie fans of all kinds, Batman fans, Ledger fans, Bale fans

Bad for: those who don't like long movies, people who automatically dislike popular films

The Gallery
The Economist: * * * * *
The Surfer: * * * *
The Film Maker: * * * *
The Writer * * * *

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