THE DARK KNIGHT - THE PIT OF HORROR REVIEW -- [Posted 25th July 2008]
Reviewing a film like this, given its critic-proof nature plus its nearly-guaranteed posthumous Oscar nomination, is somewhat irrelevant. But I'll give it a shot anyway.
The Dark Knight is, despite a few caveats, a remarkably implicit morality tale with a multitude of awe-inspiring action sequences thrown in. Add in that the principle actors deliver commanding performances, and you've got that rare specimen: a comic strip film which just might ring some Oscar cherries. Christopher Nolan, who helmed 2005's highly successful Batman Begins, delivers a powerful character study in this sequel.
Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne, billionaire and secretly also the mysterious vigilante Batman (only a few are aware of this glitch in his persona). The ever-impressive Aaron Eckhart is Harvey Dent, Gotham's newly appointed District Attorney, and a figurative Boy Scout in terms of fighting crime and upholding ethics and standards. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, and the erstwhile Michael Caine reprises Pennyworth. Morgan Freeman once again appears as a much-more conflicted Lucius Fox. And then there's the Joker.
It's been suggested that Heath Ledger deserves a posthumous Oscar for his performance as this character, and if that happens, you won't hear a whimper of complaint from me. Ledger elevates the character in ways only hinted at in Jack Nicholson's or Cesar Romero's previous incarnations. A completely amoral figure whose motivation is not greed or power but simply chaos and destruction, Joker is simultaneously comical and terrifying. Contrasting the chiseled detail of previous Jokers' make-ups, Ledger sports a grotesquely smeared-on design with lanky, unwashed hair. Portraying manic schizophrenia, Ledger appears to be playing off several days of sleep deprivation, and he chews the scenery in every scene he's in.
The film's plot centers around Gotham's organized crime syndicate dwindling as Batman's heroism, coupled with Dent's crackdown, have decimated the ranks and sent many a gangster to the slammer. Joker appears through the haze of this and maneuvers to take control of the various mob groups through pragmatically brutal force and intimidation. Very telling is Joker's initial demand of "half the money," as he's later seen burning a huge mountain of cash to the incredulity of the other mobsters. "Don't worry," he assures them in what will become a classic line, "I'm only burning my half."
Meanwhile Bruce Wayne has grown weary of being Batman and is instrumental in campaigning to make Dent Gotham's new "face of heroism," since there has also been some fall-out because of Batman's vigilante ways and the fact that he may be indirectly responsible for the deaths of several police officers because of his riling mob types. He genuinely believes in Dent as an incorruptible human being, and this is part of the set-up for Joker's most fiendish ambition--to set in motion a series of events that will corrupt and symbolically destroy Dent. As anyone familar with the comic book knows, Harvey Dent is the character who eventually becomes the hideously scarred villain Two Face, and once the metamorphosis occurs during the film's third act, it is genuinely tragic. And contrasting with, say, Tommy Lee Jones' cartoonish facial design for the character in 1994's Batman Forever, Aaron Eckhart's "Two Face" make-up is truly horrifying to behold, and makes one wonder if any CGI had to be utilized for the motion of charred and sinewy facial muscles on the violated side of his face.
The only minor flaws in the film have to do with the erratic and sometimes-breakneck pacing in many of the action sequences. The senses are somewhat assaulted a few times, and the narrative flow of plot points is occasionally diluted by the frenetic transitioning. But these few negatives hardly impede the film's strong points, and with a running time of two and a half hours, perhaps the movie would have dragged with the pacing reduced.
At the heart of The Dark Knight is the theme of compromise--well-intentioned though it may be--and the unexpected devestating consequences it may bring. Batman/Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon (a barely recognizable Gary Oldman) and most particularly Two Face/Harvey Dent each figure in this paradigm, and the results ain't pretty. But they do make The Dark Knight perhaps the most intelligent and philosophical comic-hero adaptations ever brought to film. And this is what elevates it from eye candy to art.
'THE DARK KNIGHT' A Film by CHRISTOPHER NOLAN
Starring CHRISTIAN BALE - HEATH LEDGER - MICHAEL CAINE - GARY OLDMAN - MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL & MORGAN FREEMAN
Written by Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan.
[DISCUSS ON OUR FORUMS] [Review By Petch Lucas]
STUDIO: WARNER BROS.
RUN TIME 152mins (US)
CERT: USA, PG-13