Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight: Review

Of all the superhero movies I’ve seen, this is the first one I feel comfortable calling epic. It is possibly the most ambitious movie I’ve seen all year; and the most groundbreaking in terms of the genre. In fact, The Dark Knight doesn’t so much feel like a superhero movie as much as crime drama in league with The Departed and Heat (and I’m far from the first person to mention that.)

This mix creates a superhero experience that is both unique and engrossing; and cultivates a bizarre feeling of plausibility. This is by far the most adult superhero movie I have ever seen; and by that I don’t mean blood, gore, and sex. This movie has a complexity to it that is surprising. Each character is driven by a unique philosophy and set of morals. Especially Batman; who is a vigilantly, but realizes that he cannot be the one that ultimately distributes justice. He sees the new D.A. Harvey Dent (Gotham’s new ‘white night’ played by Aaron Eckhart) and Lieutenant Gordon (the “good cop” played by Gary Oldeman) as people that can ultimately replace him. Ironically, Dent and Gordon see Batman as a person who can really get things done, as the frustrations of working within the law get to them.

But Batman runs head first into the Law of Unintended Consequences. Yes, he is inspiring good (as exemplified in Gordon and Harvey Dent) but criminals are becoming more dangerous; and small pockets of incompetent copycat vigilantes are fouling things up.

Things escalate, and a new villain comes on the scene; a near arch-type of nihilism: The Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger.

And what’s to be said about Heath Ledger’s performance that has not already been said? His Joker is mesmerizing: he creates one of the most memorable movie villains I have ever seen, in league with Hannibal Lector.

The Dark Knights’ Joker is a villain of unrelenting evil. As Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Cain) says, “Some people aren’t looking for anything logical.” The Joker breaks the old detective axiom “who benefits?” because nobody does, least of all him. The Joker doesn’t believe in values or morality, they are just foolish “jokes” held by an ignorant public, and dropped at the first sign of trouble. The Joker delights in tearing people down; in creating situations where their morals can be compromised. It is for this reason that the Joker fixates on a possibly incorruptible force: The Batman.

It is in this that we see the theme of the movie: which centers on moral compromise. The battle between the Joker, who believes that compromise is inevitable because values don’t exist; and Batman, Gordon, and Dent- who work within there own moral codes but find themselves limited by them. The theme of this movie is carried all the way through; it’s perfect that most of the major action sequences focus to some degree on choice. Can a person stand up for what they believe? The integration of this question into the plot is exiting and often surprising.

Are there any problems? I suppose I could nitpick if I wanted to. There are some pacing issues, and great dialoged is sometimes lost in a scene. Christopher Nolan has problems with directing multi-shot conversations and off-screen action (though he has improved greatly from Batman Begins.) As for Batman’s detective skills: they get a little more screen time then the last movie; in a CSI-esc sequence and a few others. Still, I felt myself unsatisfied with this aspect of the movie.

But these are just small complaints that don’t tar what is ultimately a great film; not just a great superhero movie or action movie; but a great film: period.

The cast and performances are all stunning, nuanced, and honest. Heath Ledger has been given a good deal of press for his memorable role; but I think Aaron Eckhart has been somewhat overlooked. His Harvey Dent is both sympathetic and plausible (without being Naturalistic.) There is a point about a third of the way through where Eckhart displays some of the best acting I have seen all year; Maggie Gyllenhall (replacing Holmes as Rachael) is also good in this scene. Harvey Dent’s story arc is very reflective of the story at large; it is perfectly integrated with the theme. In a way, the Harvey Dent character is at the heart of the movie.

It’s exiting how the movie plays with your expectations; and how much you find yourself caring about the characters and their fates, even those who receive little screen-time (Though the movie is never exploitive.) The plot progressive logically; with each major event being set in motion by one of the characters. In the tradition of great Romantic storytelling, everything has a purpose; and ultimately everything serves and compliments the theme.

I have rarely gone to a movie this long that felt this short. It is a film with a great deal going on, but never feels crowded. The story, as I mentioned, is complex and interesting, many will be surprised where the movie ends up; as it drives home the theme, with one of the best monologues in the movie (the best monologue, of course, belongs to Ledger.)

Like the last movie, this one makes you hungry for more; not with cliffhangers, but with promises of what’s to come. The best testament I can give to this movie that I hope the franchise continues; I hope Christopher Nolan continues to improve in the quality of his directing and storytelling (as he has shown great and dramatic growth through his career.) And most of all; I hope the show isn’t sold out for my second viewing.

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