Running time: 152 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart
Genre: Comic book, Action, Thriller
Batman Begins left us with a hero we could be proud of and a glimpse of things to come, a killer with a sense for the theatrical who leaves a calling card. So begins The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s sequel, his Heat with superheroes, his magnum opus.
Twelve months on from Begins and there’s a change in the air in Gotham, criminals try to meet during the day, rarely travel alone and even don't do business when the Bat signal shines bright in the sky…just in case. Enter a man to fill the void left by a cautious conglomerate of Italian, Russian and
mobs. Wearing clown make-up he pulls off
an inventive and rather ingenious raid on a mob bank. With the police task force (run by Lieutenant
Gordon), newly elected District Attorney (Harvey Dent) and The Bat-Man
battering them at every opportunity Gotham’s gangsters are left with little
choice but to turn to this man, a man with no desire, no agenda and no off
switch, a man who just wants to watch the world burn…The Joker.
The Dark Knight is very much a film of two parts, the first is that of law and order as Dent, Gordon and Batman all strive to bring down the mobs using various degrees of legality with failing prosecutions and back room deals to build a RICO trial against the bosses. This is unlike any other comic book film ever made, it’s so heavily grounded in the real world, the laws not just of physics but of the land, those man made and governed over
Gotham. The second
half is a battle, a huge burning struggle between order and chaos, good and
bad, and between two characters that are as determined to achieve their goals
as the other. The second half of the
film, the struggle to pull Gotham back from
the brink of chaos is made even more real, impressive, frighteningly wonderful
because of the realism established in Batman
Begins and brought home in The Dark Knight.
Bale (as Batman/Bruce Wayne) continues on the great work he began in his previous outing. His mask, unlike all previous incarnations is not the one he dons to fight crime but rather that of billionaire fun loving playboy. He is, at heart, all Batman and it’s truly wonderful to see the actualisation of this on screen. He can also, finally, turn his neck! Nolan, like many writers of graphic fiction before him, understands how it’s impossible for one man to do all this alone. Yes he has Alfred but Earl Grey tea can only go so far, Lucius Fox (Freeman) is the man behind the Bat, the Q to 007, he hands the Dark Knight the sword he requires and is there whenever he’s needed. Freeman did some amazing work in Batman Begins assisting, as it were, in the evolution of Batman and here there are several key and wonderful scenes that showcase how considered these films are. With the slightest nod to Batman: Hong Kong, Fox assists not only in the provision of new gadgets and a strategy to achieve Batman’s goals but demonstrates a relationship with
that has grown since their first mistrusting encounter. Similarly he has some beautiful moments in
the latter stages. Michael Caine (as
Alfred) is again amazing and is used as more than a butler, more than a Father
figure as he on several occasions can be seen working out of the makeshift O.C while Wayne
Manor is restored to former glory. Gary
Oldman voiced some concerns post Batman
Begins saying that he’d sign on for more if there was more for Gordon to do
and in the middle of the two and a half plus hours of inner city crime opera
the wish is granted as Gordon pounds pavement, navigates the tricky issue of
trust in a corrupt city and rises to the position we best know him for. His scenes with Bale are strong, as always
but his best work comes face to face with Dent (Eckhart) as the two men pull
desperately in slightly different directions to achieve the same goal never
knowing whether they can trust one another.
The paranoia and tragedy of the thin blue line in The Dark Knight is simply beautiful and if it wasn’t for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy this would be
Oldman’s finest work in years. It's a different kind of duel. A quick
nod to Maggie Gyllenhaal having stepped into the shoes vacated by Katie Holmes
as Rachel Dawes, you’re simply amazing Maggie – always. Last but by no means least we come to Heath
Ledger, the dearly departed prince who (after this performance) would have
become king. Hollywood, nay cinema in general would have
fallen at your feet had you not left us so quickly after your work was
done. Over the years there have been
many incarnations of The Joker, more or less all roads lead back to Cesar Romero who (having little in performances prior to muddy his waters) got it right
at the first try. These performances
however all had one failing in that the Joker was what he was. What I mean by that is that there always
seemed to be a logic, he was the Joker, he would cause chaos and laugh about it
but he always did it in the same way.
Ledger saw the opportunity to colour outside the lines, his Joker was
free of a back story, the finished article, real deal when he arrived in Gotham and as such was so much more dangerous because he
was a unknown quantity. One day he would be as
master planner, the kind who could pull off the heist at the beginning of the
film, the next he would decide he doesn’t care about the money and destroy it,
then he’d be like a “dog chasing cars”.
What his Joker was, what he will forever be is an misfiring brain, a
fractured opportunist. He would see a
gap in the market, an opportunity to cause mayhem, destruction, chaos, to see
the streets bleed and he would adapt in order to make it happen. That’s what made him so dangerous, so
difficult to beat, difficult to predict because he was never the same brain two
days running. His processor would run
slightly differently and whatever arrangement you had with him was null and
There’s a few reasons why I love the cinematography of this film. The first is that is showcases the city,
Gotham is physical – more than an idea. There are rich changes in colour and the film
has an overall palette to it, a cold steely determination that suits the
mood. The second reason is Nolan’s
refusal to acknowledge 3D opting instead for IMAX. 3D is a sad gimmick that lessens the
cinematic experience and goes against the medium. For 100 years you’re told to allow the
editing of the film to stitch you into the narrative, to become one with the
story. 3D works against this ethos, in
favour of highlights the mechanics for cheap thrills that mask pure films. Leave it to James Cameron. He’s also improved the one cinematic issue
from the previous film and we can now see the entire fight, which is wonderful.
The Dark Knight is the Columbo wars with capes, what Gangs of New York should have been, it is all things that are excellent about gangster and crime films but it also has a lot of heart and soul. Where Joss Whedon and the directors at Marvel have delivered hugely successful and entertaining caper comic book adaptations, beautiful looking candy floss Nolan has captured the essence of cinema as art, as truth 24 times per second and stitched it into a genre largely disregarded as childish, lower than Fellini, Rossellini, Truffaut. Elitist nonsense I tell you! The Dark Knight has taken a narrative form and has raised it to the height of opera with the intensity of The Godfather and the suspense of Hitchcock, a modern masterpiece and have I mentioned he can finally move his neck?
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