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The Dark Knight (2 DVDs)
Member Name: shaneo632
The Dark Knight (2 DVDs)
Advantages: Stunning scope and depth for a comic book film
Disadvantages: Nothing substantial...
The Dark Knight is certainly the most hyped film of 2008 - regardless of typical summer blockbuster buzz, Christopher Nolan's sequel to the superb 2005 Batman Begins has garnered both critical and audience acclaim, even managing to sweep the #1 spot on IMDB's Top 250 for the time being (although many question whether such is simply a gauge of timely popularity rather than traditional film quality).
Is The Dark Knight the best film ever made? No. However, having seen the film on two consecutive evenings, I would attest that it is not only the finest comic book film of the year, but the most entertaining and intelligent worldwide 2008 release thus far, and on its own terms, is packed to the brim with Academy Award-worthy material.
The Dark Knight opens as The Joker pulls off an ingenious bank heist, a scene all too familiar from the likes of Michael Mann's Heat, although Nolan unabashedly admits this to be one of the film's influences. What the film's opening scene makes clear is that, yes, this is a comic book film, complete with all the overblown histrionics that this entails, yet it is also a meticulously constructed labour of love from its director, finely preened to near-perfection.
Alas, The Dark Knight is not without its fair share of contrivances and curiosities, yet the interminable lengths to which Christopher Nolan challenges our expectations of the comic book and action genres seemingly mitigates the film's minor flaws. Unlike virtually every comic book film that has preceded it (other than its own predecessor), The Dark Knight is not a simplistic A-to-B story - the narrative is multi-facetted and takes all involved to the darkest recesses that this medium has ever travelled. It is therefore astounding what Nolan has managed to achieve with a 12A rating - the sheer terror induced by The Joker character alone is more horrifying than the goriest slasher film, and ironically, doesn't spill a drop of on-screen blood. Even the moments in which The Dark Knight explores Batman's curious romantic mores are accompanied by a deal of moral complexity, and never manage to overstuff an already long picture.
The majority of the hype surrounding The Dark Knight evidently stems from the late Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, and although his appearances throughout the film are fairly sparse, Ledger, in almost chameleonic fashion, entirely entrenches himself within the role of this demented, sadistic clown. Far from Jack Nicholson's campy iteration of the Caped Crusader's most famed enemy, Ledger creates one of the most memorable screen villains of the last two decades. Ledger's Joker is darkly comic, chaotic and violent with a twisted sense of logic (not far removed from No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh), and strangely enough, infectiously charming (as you will doubtless gather from the Joker's sit-down meeting with the mob). Ledger is certain to garner himself a posthumous "Best Supporting Actor" nomination next February, and if he wins, it will be with a heavy heart that we mourn the loss of an actor gone before his prime, rather than assume a victory through maudlin sentiment or sympathy.
Perhaps the unsung hero of The Dark Knight is Aaron Eckhart's District Attorney Harvey Dent, the "White Knight" of Gotham City, who seeks to once and for all clean the city's streets. Unlike Batman, he does not hide behind a mask, and thus puts a recognizable name and face to justice and righteousness, something Batman can never do. Alas, Batman himself even champions Dent as Gotham's true savior, and it is to this effect that Dent's story arc is the most engrossing and poignant of the film's lengthy runtime. Dent evokes the film's genuine sense of pathos, thanks in large part to Eckhart - his chiseled-jaw and dapper appearance aid in painting him as Gotham's final ray of light in the war against crime, and one struggles to imagine an actor who could better espouse these values. Although not as flashy as Ledger's astounding turn, Eckhart's Dent represents Gotham's noble heart and soul in a way that Batman never can, and deserves more recognition than he is ever likely to receive.
Although it is Ledger and Eckhart's performances that stand above the crowd, this is an exceptional ensemble piece, relying on the collective acting talents of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman (all returning from Batman Begins), and Maggie Gyllenhaal (making her first appearance as a slight upgrade from Katie Holmes in the previous film). The former three actors slide comfortably into their roles once again, and it is perhaps for similar reasons that first-timer Gyllenhaal simply coasts through the material, although it is only fair to state that her character (Bruce and Harvey's love interest, Rachel) is given little to do throughout, other than to arbitrarily drive the narrative forward. That is to say, Gyllenhaal makes the best of a tough spot, given the role's lack of zest.
Nolan's film is in constant flux between equilibrium and disequilibrium, never allowing the audience to sit comfortably, yet providing enough light relief so as not to exhaust. Ultimately, like the majority of action films, the dialogue is a means to an end, a way-station to car chases and large explosions, yet unlike most, it never appears desperate or too eager to hurl police cars across the screen. Nolan, as evidenced by the film's 152-minute running time, expects his audience to be patient, and thus rewards them with a picture that is both thematically rich and textured, and packed with enough overblown set pieces to please both those seeking intelligent narrative and eye-popping action.
It is wholly apparent that Nolan has improved considerably as a director since the release of Batman Begins. Begins, whilst stunning in its own right, was edited at a pace too frenetic for the eye, making it difficult to discern who was hitting who. Fortunately, Nolan's confidence behind the camera has blossomed, lingering more on the film's plentiful visual feasts, captured by superb cinematographer Wally Pfister. Moreover, Nolan's preference for organic action, enhanced where necessary by CGI, is retained - some of the film's manned stunts (such as an 18-wheeler flipping end-on-end) are astounding to behold, and a welcome rarity in contemporary cinema.
Returning following their superb rendition of the Batman Begins soundtrack, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard craft a perfectly-rounded soundscape, ranging from loud and intense during action scenes, to simmering and poetic in moments of poignance. Particularly in the film's latter scenes (and especially its coda sequence), Zimmer and Howard's score arouses the sort of adrenaline rush usually expected in throwaway Summer blockbusters. I guarantee, however, that this is one time that you'll be proud to deem yourself an "adrenaline junkie". It is important to note, however, that the score is often too bombastic for its own good - the score has evidently been amped too high in post-production, because it occasionally drowns the dialogue out to the point where it is inaudible.
Is The Dark Knight perfect? No - it truncates a few storylines that could either have been omitted entirely, or simply saved for a future film, yet given the cumbersome scope of Nolan's vision, such concessions are largely acceptable and detract in no meaningful way from this stellar film. There are a few goofy quirks throughout that will either leave you laughing or slightly miffed (such as the Batpod being able to flip from walls), and some of the film's twists and turns will be ruined by those who have seen the trailers enough. Again, though, these gripes are insubstantial in context of the film as a cohesive whole, and are mostly minor gripes in a hugely successful picture.
Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is an astounding achievement, melding the fantastical world of paperback with the gritty reality of modern crime-noir classics such as Heat or The Departed. Moreover, the film is packed to the brim with Academy-worthy material, from the performances, to the soundtrack, to the direction and even the coveted "Best Picture" award itself. Nolan confidently directs a lengthy film that manages to remain concise and thoroughly gripping from start-to-finish thanks to an expert understanding of peak-and-trough narrative form. This film will undoubtedly be remembered as a dirge for the late Heath Ledger, a talent tragically taken from us decades too early, yet it is poignant in a sense that his rendition of the Joker shall be remembered for decades, and is certainly the most powerful performance of his all-too brief career. The Dark Knight does justice to a medium too-frequently derided for its simplicity, and sets a towering benchmark that will be difficult to topple. More Greek tragedy than pop-culture pastiche, Christopher Nolan demonstrates that blockbusters, and moreover, action films, can maintain integrity and intelligence.
Summary: A finely-tuned, intelligent action-film with great performances