I’ve got some ideas in the works, but I thought you might enjoy the following. It’s a beautiful description of the latest Batman movie, and don’t worry, it’s spoiler free. It’s probably the best written movie review I have ever seen, and it poses some very good philosophical questions. What is your breaking point? What will you do when pushed to the limit? In any case, I thought I should share it with you.
The Dark Knight
Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Heath Ledger
Andy wanted me to write this, so for all I know he’s the only one who really cares what I have to think. If that’s not true, awesome, thanks for caring about my opinion. If it is, well, then this is a good way for me to figure out exactly what I feel about this fantastic movie.
To begin, I’m of the opinion that you can’t call a movie your “favorite movie ever” right when it comes out. It’s fresh in your mind, overshadowing everything else at that moment. To call a movie “favorite” means that it sticks with you, its individual scenes as well as its overall message. But I’m never one to shy away from hypocrisy, so I’ll go ahead and say that The Dark Knight is my favorite movie ever.
From a purely emotional standpoint The Dark Knight did something to me that hasn’t happened in years: I forgot that I was watching a movie. It sucked me in, completely. By the end my heart was pounding. I was totally immersed in what was happening, I was emotionally involved in the most intimate way. It’s a movie that’s felt, not watched. This description doesn’t due justice to how profoundly I’ve been affected by this film; I just can’t properly express my straight emotional feelings about it.
So forget that, and let’s go more analytical. The problems I have with Dark Knight are few; I’ll go over them at the end. Let’s talk about the good stuff, which is basically everything. What makes TDK so good is what makes any movie good: a well-written script with excellent acting, guided by a competent director. When this triumvirate forms, the potential for a powerful emotional connection with the audience is limitless. And that’s what we’re given in TDK.
The brothers Nolan were unafraid to take what could have been a straightforward blockbuster and instead write a script that was introspecting and action packed all at once. The theme of this film, to me, is: What are your limits? When pushed to the breaking point will you actually break, or will you find the strength to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to do the right thing? The Joker claims he’s aimless, an agent of pure chaos and anarchy. But he does have a skeleton of a plan: trying to break everyone, from Batman down to the average citizen of Gotham. He finds success and failure in surprising places.
The Dark Knight is terrifying without going for the cheesy “shock factor”; it’s suspenseful without being overdramatic; the action sequences are thrilling, but never feel improbable enough to remove you from the experience; and it’s quiet without the calm moments serving as meaningless stopgaps between set pieces. You hear about the roller coaster of emotion. TDK is a real roller coaster, every scene given equal consideration, the troughs just as important as the peaks.
That’s really a credit to Christopher Nolan’s direction. The maker of Memento and The Prestige is obviously no stranger to character drama, and it’s good to see he was willing to have quiet character moments that actually built a dramatic story, instead of making Die Hard with capes. The Dark Knight would have been a much lesser film if it had been nothing but fistfights and car chases strung together by lulls meant, not to give an insight into a character’s intimate thoughts, but to give the audience time to go pee-pee before the next explosion. Not to say that the action sequences in TDK aren’t necessary or spectacular; they are. Almost epic, in fact.
In the end though, Nolan’s willingness to give weight to the character-building scenes would have been nothing without good actors behind the characters. To say there were good actors in Dark Knight would be an understatement. Every role, no matter how small, was played earnestly and with absolute dedication. To begin on this topic, I think all of the returning actors were even better than they were in Batman Begins. Except for Cillian Murphy. Talk about a pointless cameo.
Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are as solid as expected, and since their characters were given a little more to do, their skills are even more apparent. Gary Oldman is pretty much perfect, as always. Gordon’s role is way more important in TDK, and Gary rises to the occasion, giving a very heroic and poignant performance. His two intertwining speeches at the end of the film are a credit to his acting, as well as the excellent writing.
Christian Bale does a brilliant job of juggling three different characters: the real Bruce Wayne, playboy Bruce Wayne and, of course, the Batman. Bale solidifies his status as best Wayne/Batman ever, and that’s really all I feel the need to say about him.
Now I’ll move on to the big newcomers, starting with Maggie Gyllenhaal. After watching Gyllenhaal in the film and seeing what her character had to do, I view the recasting of Rachel Dawes as something that had to be done. Recasting Katie Holmes allowed for an evolution of Rachel’s character that wouldn’t have been possible if Katie had still been in the roll. There was a strength in Maggie’s Rachel that wasn’t present in Batman Begins; recasting allowed for a bit of a break from the previous characterization that couldn’t have been explained away as “Oh, I gained a spine in between films.” The Rachel that ran away from the Scarecrow in Begins couldn’t have stood there, afraid but in control, while the Joker held a knife in her mouth. Plus I just like Gyllenhaal more.
I don’t know how anyone could call Aaron Eckhart bland in Dark Knight. He convincingly portrays the progression of a man from noble defender of the good, Harvey Dent, to tragically demented Two Face. Watching his startlingly abrupt transitions from rational to enraged is engaging, not boring. While not mind blowing, Eckhart’s performance solidly portrays the near Shakespearean tragedy of Harvey Dent.
Intense. Eerily funny. Anarchic. Frightening. Brilliant. I say to you now that the death of Heath Ledger is the greatest tragedy to hit the motion picture industry in the last several decades. The title of this note references the fact that I wasn’t a fan of Heath Ledger before this. He was just another one of those pretty boy actors to me, not to be taken seriously. His Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain didn’t really make me take notice. But when I heard he was cast as the Joker, I latched on to that nomination as a sign that Chris Nolan hadn’t suddenly become an idiot. He hadn’t.
I’m sure there are plenty of superb performances to come over the next five months, so I don’t know if he’ll win, but Heath’s turn as the Joker is definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination. If there was ever a domestic terrorist like Heath’s Joker in the real world, I would be very scared. Watching the Joker gambol across the screen, you really feel like he could do anything. And what he does do is terrifyingly realistic. I join the ranks of people who are shocked that TDK got away with a PG-13 rating. I was really scared at some points, that’s how…. possible the things the Joker was doing were. His little home movies were really frightening. There was also a lot of philosophizing the Joker had to do, which could have come off as pretentious and overbearing. Heath pulled it off brilliantly. He did everything brilliantly. No description can do justice; you won’t be able to comprehend the kind of dedication and bravery Heath Ledger had until you see it for yourself.
So that’s everything I think worked pretty well in The Dark Knight. By comparison, the problems I have seem paltry. And they are. There’s a minor plot hole involving a kidnapping that I feel is a result of ten seconds of footage being left on the cutting room floor, rather than any actual plotting issue. I’ve already mentioned the pointlessness that is Cillian Murphy’s brief appearance. A complaint that’s been raised since Batman Begins is the voice that Christian Bale’s chosen to use as Batman. While I have no problem with the voice itself, towards the end of TDK I felt like there were far too many unnecessary pauses in the middle of sentences. I understand that you would be a little winded after fighting eighty guys, but I think for the sake of the film they could have played that down a bit. And that isn’t really a problem; it’s just me being overly nitpicky.
So there’s what I think about my new favorite movie. Feel free to disagree completely; after all this is only an opinion. And maybe I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about. After all, I am the guy who’s failed to get into film school twice now. I just really love The Dark Knight, and I know that the emotional impact it’s had on me so immediately isn’t going to leave. This is a film I could watch every day and it would never get old.
P.S. Try and make comments as spoiler free as possible for the present. Some people reading may not have seen it yet.