Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Dark Knight - Review

I remember going to see Batman Begins three years ago with very low expectations, my love of the franchise having been crushed by the appalling Batman & Robin. I was shocked, relieved and delighted to find that it was an exceptionally good movie and certainly the best of the franchise. The final scene at the end of the movie that setup a sequel left me giddy with excitment for the next film. It has been a very long three year wait. My excitement for The Dark Knight was further heightened with all the fabulous pre-release promotional material. I mean seriously, everyone of those posters was cool. It must be a year now since the first material started to surface and this long build up, followed by a fantastic trailer and growing media hype had started to get me a little worried that I might be left disappointed. After all we'd been burned before with the likes of the Star Wars prequels. It turns out thatI need not have worried.

So how good is it? For me it is easily the best film of 2008. Also for me the best comic book movie thus far. Is it my favourite ever movie? I will delay that decision till I see it again but it is certainly in my top three favourite movies. It isn't one particular aspect of the film that has impressed me so much. Whereas in a film like Wanted I was so impressed with the visual style and action sequences for the most part, in The Dark Knight it is every aspect of what makes a movie that I am impressed with. The story, the dialogue, action set-pieces, acting performances, the score and the cinematography.

The story in the film is superb and it is simply far beyond anything that has been attempted in the comic book movie genre before. It is more complex and intelligent than going the route of so many other comic movies of having the hero face-off against a villain and throwing in some personal issues. This film is about so much more than Batman and the Joker. This is about a city trying to fight back against the power of the mob and questioning whether they are right to let a vigilante solve their problems. There are parts of the story that would work just as well in a crime movie with Batman and the Joker removed from the story. If I had to compare this film to another I would say it is resembles Heat. The plot also managed to surprise me a few times too. The supposed death of Jim Gordon was shocking, I simply couldn't believe they'd killed off a key character. Then there was the fate of Rachel Dawes. I knew the film was going to be dark but I didn't think it was going to be relentlessly so.

The performances in the film were universally excellent. Bale once again excelled as both Wayne and Batman. I think his portrayal of Bruce Wayne the billionaire playboy is fascinating. Your not supposed to find him likeable unlike other takes on Wayne character but you do really like him when he can act like himself around those who know him best, i.e. Alfred, Fox and Rachel. Bale pulls of the duality of the role with great skill. It might be lazy to say it but Aaron Eckhart was born to play a role in a comic book film, I mean just look at the guys square jaw. It is straight out of Batman the Animated Series. His performance as Harvey Dent was great as he managed to make a character so idealistic very likeable and he also makes for a very angry Two Face. (I thought the Two Face effect was superb and worked seamlessly so I don't agree with a complaint I heard that makeup would have been more effective than the visual effect used.) As for Gary Oldman I seriously think he isn't getting enough credit for his role. No longer a peripheral figure he was one of the most important characters in the movie. I really enjoyed seeing Maggie Gyllenhaal play Rachel Dawes as she did a far better job than Katie Holmes. It is much easier to believe that this character is someone important because when Holmes was playing the role she seemed too young to be in such a position of responsibility. Add in her superior acting qualities too and plus it doesn't hurt that Gyllenhaal is the sexiest woman in Hollywood.

It is impossible to talk about this film for long without getting to Heath Ledger and the Joker. I, like a lot of people thought he was a strange choice for the role but I had faith in Nolan's decision. He has certainly been proved correct. I think Ledgers portrayal of the Joker is now the definitive version, far better in my opinion than the more comic interpretation by Jack Nicholson. Ledger's Joker is so dangerous and menacing in a way that the Joker has never been before on screen. The Joker is now unequivocally a terrorist, it's a far cry from Cesar Romero camp turn as the Joker in the 1960's TV series or Burton's imagining. The Sophie's Choice style plans that he hatches and executes with no sign of humanity make him the best villian to appear on screen in a long, long time. The Joker also gets all the best bits in the film; the disappearing pencil trick, egging on the cop in the interrogation room or leaning out of the police car like dog after escaping from the MCU building.

I nearly forgot to talk about the fantastic score for this film. It isn't surprising that it is so great considering that they managed to get two heavy-weight composers onboard to collaborate on the film. Hans Zimmer (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator) and James Newton Howard (The Sixth Sense, The Fugitive) don't bombard the audience with an overwhelming score that you might expect when two composers want to get their music on film. In fact for some stretches of the film there is very little music, take for instance the opening shot of the Bat symbol shot against a vibrant blue flame. A very striking image but it is totally silent. A bold choice but it works, while other musical cues reminded me of There Will Be Blood.

For a film of this length it is important to get the pacing right and it is. It has a number of great action sequences dotted throughout the film with the standout Batbike scene at about the halfway point. I must also give the superb sequence set in Hong Kong a special mention. I'm sure this sequence if viewed in an IMAX screening would be breathtaking. Plus who didn't think the skyhook concept was cool? In between there is a lot of plot to get through and character development that never threatens to bore. Having said that this Batman film may not be for younger children as they might be confused and/or bored with the plot. I find a lot of people are praising this film because it is so dark. I don't necessarily agree with the idea that because they've made a comic book film dark that it naturally makes it better. I enjoyed the first Spider-man movie fine and it is the exact tonal opposite of this film.

I don't think one can underestimate the brilliance of director Christopher Nolan in crafting a film of this quality. I mean just look at where he has taken this character in the space of only two films since Batman & Robin. It was good to see to that he has gotten more comfortable in filming the fight scenes. It is easier to understand what is happening as they are less frantically cut than was the case in Batman Begins. Perhaps my favourite sequence in the movie is the one in which the the police commissioner and the judge are assassinated and the Joker crashes Bruce Wayne's fund raiser. The whole sequence is cut so well that the tension just keeps building and building and it is almost a relief when the Joker finally enters the party. All credit must go to Nolan and his editor for cutting that scene together so well. With all the talk being of Ledger getting a posthumous Oscar nomination, I'd like to see some Oscar recognition for Nolan and for the film as a whole.

2009 Best Picture? I don't see why not.


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