Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight - Movie Review

THE DARK KNIGHT (****) - Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy, Michael Jai White, William Fichtner and Anthony Michael Hall.
Written by Jonathan & Christopher Nolan.
Directed by Christopher Nolan.

Believe the hype, about Heath Ledger's performance and the movie overall.

I loved Batman Begins, and this movie's better. That movie was all about Bruce Wayne, and it's abou time we had a Batman movie that did that. Now it's a year later and we're seeing all the repercussions of Batman being a vigilante on the prowl. There are copycat batmen on the prowl, getting their butts kicked by more prepared villains. And with a law-enforcer as extreme as Batman, naturally his opposite will arise. Enter the Joker.

This movie is like Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, Michael Mann's Heat, and Martin Scorsese's The Departed, with cops and criminals trying to outsmart each other, double-cross each other, and they can't avoid their fates. Eliott Ness happens to wear a batcape while Al Capone smears make-up on his face.

Everyone brings their A-game, but above them all is Ledger. Now I thought Ledger was a weird casting choice when it was first announced. I couldn't see it. Really, the guy from A Knight's Tale as the Joker? But Heath creates a unique and scary villain here. A terrorist with no morals and no greed. He just wants to create as much chaos as possible. He erases memories of Jack Nicholson's Joker.

If Chris Nolan has a weakness, it's the staging of the action sequences. Sometimes they get too choppy and we can lose our sense of where we are in the battle. But Nolan (Memento, The Prestige) is first and foremost a story-teller, and he's a good one. There's a lot of thought-provoking themes here, with parallels to the Patriot Act to the criminal justice system.

Caine, Oldman and Freeman are the three noble adults who have to bring the subtlety to keep their characters fresha nd relevant, and each has his moments and deliver the gravitas. Gyllenhaal is a step up as Rachel Dawes (replacing Katie Holmes) and while her part is still underwritten, she becomes an important part of the story.

Christian Bale has a great time playing up the playboy image of Bruce Wayne, while still get down and dirty as Batman. Aaron Eckhart may get overshadowed with all the chatter since Heath is so good, but I really felt for Harvey Dent. It's one of Eckhart's best performances. Dent is the White Knight of Gotham, a fearless district attorney out to clean up the city, knowingly putting his life in danger to do the right thing. The further we got into the movie, the more I felt for this guy and hoped he would escape his fate. But we all know Two-Face is coming.

The movie made me that much sadder that Heath Ledger is dead. Not just because if there's a third Nolan-directed Batman, we won't see the Joker. This was a role that would launch him into the A-List stratosphere, put him with Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, where he could do whatever project he wanted.

I saw in IMAX, and regardless of format, I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

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