The Dark Knight

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 152 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart
Genre: Comic book, Action, Thriller
Country: USA

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 Jamaica 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 Wayne 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 void.  Perfect.

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?

Movie Bar HEROES! featuring a foursome of fantastic yet forgotten Superheroes including The Champions of Justice and 3 Supermen Against Godfather can be booked by clicking [here].


Alex Jowski said...

Yes, 3D would definitely worked against this film. Great write-up of a great movie.

Also, I just awarded you a blog award, go pick it up:

John Baxter said...

Hey Alex,
Thanks a lot, appreciate it. Will go get it when I get sat down at a PC.

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