MOVIEGOER REVIEW: "THE DARK KNIGHT"
In 2005, Chris Nolan did a wonderful thing: he brought Batman back to life. After a series of miserable films, including the unwatchable “Batman and Robin,” Nolan, a relatively inexperienced director, decided to take the franchise in another direction. Gone were the days of lazy storytelling, silly villains dressed like cheap carnival acts and popcorn-fed one-liners. Pulling from Frank Miller’s 1987 graphic novel “Batman: Year One,” Nolan delivered a darker, more authentic Batman, much to the satisfaction of audiences and critics alike.
“The Dark Knight” picks up where “Batman Begins” left off. Wayne Manor under reconstruction after being burnt to the ground, and billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is living in a penthouse apartment and working out a makeshift workshop that might once have been an incinerator. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) remains by his side, as does Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). His love interest, Rachel Dawes (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), has fallen for the new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Gotham City is being terrorized by a clown-faced madman known as The Joker (Heath Ledger). He graduates to the big time when he promises the mob that he can kill Batman for half of all of their money.
In any other film, and, arguably, with any other villain, this might seem like boring and idle nonsense. After all, doesn’t every crook make promises they can’t keep? But with The Joker – I’m sorry – Heath Ledger’s Joker, you believe he can live up to it, especially when he smashes a pencil through a mobster's face and calls it a magic trick.
The opening sequence sets the tone for the film. Smartly, he avoids credits and gets right to it: a swiftly conceived bank robbery reminiscent of “Heat,” Michael Mann’s superb cop drama of 1995. And from then on, mayhem ensues.
The Joker and Batman chase and fight and beat each other a pulp all across Gotham. The Joker doesn’t have a plan; his goal is to wreak enough havoc that Gotham loses its faith in humanity along with its soul. Sound familiar?
Mr. Bale’s role in this film is limited, which is a shame. No one has been better as Bruce Wayne or Batman. Mr. Caine and Mr. Freeman, veterans that they are, bring their charm to their roles. Mr. Eckhart is picture perfect as the all-American Harvey Dent, and Ms. Gyllenhaal is a far more grown-up (not to mention sexy) Rachel Dawes than was her predecessor, Katie Holmes.
But the film belongs to Mr. Ledger; his interpretation of The Joker is something to behold. He slouches about with his face smeared white face paint mumbling words and scaring the hell out of people. Bright red lines highlight two nasty scars on either side of his mouth. Black circles surround his eyes, and filthy green hair hangs down like the worn-out end of a moldy mop. He is a terrifying sight.
Mr. Nolan along with his brother Jonathan devised an interesting plot with only a few minor distractions. The action sequences (and there are many) are finely orchestrated, although I wish Nolan would take a play from Mr. Mann's book and widen the lens from time to time. Still, when he, without the use of computer generated images, flips over an 18-wheeler, my mouth dropped in wonder. And no one should gripe about the cinematography; watching Batman fly through the air will leave you breathless.
“The Dark Knight” is a wildly ambitious film for which Mr. Nolan and the entire cast should be commended. In the hands of lesser talent, this might have amounted to nothing more than a flimsy, stupid re-take of a tired story or, “The Incredible Hulk.” Instead, Nolan serves up a though-provoking and morally complex tale about a man striving to find good in a city overrun with evil. The result is filmmaking of the highest order.