THE DARK KNIGHTMOVIE REVIEW
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You know, I've wrote thousands of reviews over the years and I don't think I've ever described a film as wondrous.
Visually, I have to attribute this to two things, Director Christopher Nolan (MEMENTO, BATMAN BEGINS) and his Director of Photography, Wally Pfister (MEMENTO, BATMAN BEGINS). Wally has been with Chris since his first feature and has worked on every movie Chris has made since then. The two men share a common vision of what a movie should be: BIG.
Like BATMAN BEGINS before it, THE DARK KNIGHT seems to fill every inch of the massive theater screen. This was not a movie where the director allowed a voice at the back of his head to remind him that he had to visually compensate for the eventual dimensions of a 4:3 television screen.
Even at the start of the film, a bank robbery, this widescreen presentation is actually presented AS a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation, and not as a widescreen movie where all the action takes place in a 4:3 box, leaving unused margins. There is nothing unused on the screen here and I haven't experienced this kind of "Wow! factor since I was a kid watching Star Wars in the theater. Don't get me wrong, I've seen plenty of widescreen movies before, just not ones that adroitly used the screen real estate so wisely.
Or so wondrously!
Then there's the action, and in as much as a director is a storyteller, Chris Nolan unveils the harsh life of Gotham City. A place where the citizens turned their backs for years and ignored the encoraching brutal crime as it filled their streets and their lives.
"This city deserves a better class of criminal!"
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale: AMERICAN PSYCHO, EQUILIBRIUM, BATMAN BEGINS) goes out as Batman nearly every night to fight crime, but Gotham is huge and despite his wealth of resources, he's still only one man. Bruce also acts based on a tragic obsession: as a boy he saw his Mother and Father were shot to death. So like Spiderman (who came along 23 years after Bats), Bruce can never fully enjoy being Batman say, the way Oliver Queen can enjoy being The Green Arrow, Clark Kent can enjoy being Superman, or Hellboy can enjoy being a demon spawn from the eternal burning depths of Hell.
On the other hand, Bruce isn't racked with eternal self-loathing the way Spawn is. But still, he's only one man.
So enter -
Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart: THE CORE, PAYCHECK), Gotham City's newest and most dashing District Attorney. Harvey is the real deal and isn't afraid to go after the scum of Gotham to clean up the city and return it to a semblance of decency. However, between Harvey and the Batman, organized scum is really feeling the pinch. Things get even worse for the thugs when a new psychopathic criminal enters the field and starts stealing money from mob banks. Said psycho is none other than The Joker (Heath Ledger: THE BROTHERS GRIMM), who enters a private meeting of the mob, announces that he is the one stealing their money, tells them that he won't give their money back, then kills one of them. Now that his territory is marked, he offers his services in true Hacker fashion. The beleagured mobsters don't know what to think, so he leaves his card.
Soon the Joker is terrorising Gotham and nobody else knows what to think either. The cops can't get a trace on the guy, Harvey Dent can't get a hold of the guy, and Batman can't catch him. The crimes grow deadlier and more outlandish and the Joker laughs through it all, making each crime an unforseen turn of events and never repeating his pattern.
He has no pattern.
Truly a Wildcard (aka the Joker in the deck) in every sense of the word. What no one understands (though Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred suspects) is that, for The Joker, there is no end game to the crime. He doesn't rob banks to enrich himself. He robs banks to rob banks. He doesn't kidnap people to hold them for ransom. He kidnaps people to terrorize the ones who love them. The Joker holds the city of Gotham hostage for no other reason but that he wants everyone who lives there to feel like his hostage. The Crime IS the endgame.
Yet all is not well for The Joker either. No one can catch him, but Harvey Dent and the Batman are a nuisance. They cut his sprees short before the plans can be fully executed. People are saved who The Joker meant to die. The mob bosses who hired him are turning stoolie and ratting him out.
THE DARK KNIGHT is not the Batman that Tim Burton gave us, even though both Burton and Nolan's Dark Knight were inspired by the comic book miniseries, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, by Frank Miller (SIN CITY, 300). And its certainly nothing like the 1960s TeeVee show.
Despite having a hero who dresses like a bat, and a villan who dresses like a clown, Chris Nolan and his co-writer and brother, Jonathon Nolan (MEMENTO) and based on a story by Chris and David S. Goyer (DEMONIC TOYS, THE PUPPET MASTERS, DARK CITY, BLADE [all], BATMAN BEGINS), shows us what a real world would be like if such people actually existed. As such, while Ledger's Joker may laugh at his own antics, there's nothing funny about what he's doing. Jack Nicholson played The Joker for laughs, even using his own real first name for The Joker's "normal" personna. Burton had Nicholson play The Joker like a cartoon. Nolan had Ledger play The Joker as a ruthless homicidal maniac. This Joker isn't concerned about his lovelife or the loyalty of his ever-changing crew or even the fearful adulation of the city.
"I'm an agent of chaos."
Just like the comic book, The Joker is the most interesting person whenever he's present. But also like the comic book, The Joker is attracted to The Batman. In some ways they're opposite sides of the same coin. But what the Joker knows, that the Batman will never admit, is that they are both so very close to each other. The Joker in fact, loves Batman; who is probably the closest thing to a best friend the fractured mind of someone like The Joker can ever have.
What helps this movie tremendously, besides the super tight script, the amazingly artful direction, and the awesome cinematography, is the perfectly timed editing of Lee Smith (BATMAN BEGINS). At over two and a half hours, there is a lot of story here, a lot of characters, and a lot of side streets that lead to the powerful conclusion. I've seen many a director get completely lost in trying to handle so much. And even though Batman and The Joker are "the stars", this movie works like an ensemble piece loaded with cameos.
There is a bit part by a returning Cillian Murphy (28 DAYS LATER, RED EYE, BATMAN BEGINS) as The Scarecrow. A side story about the various mobsters and how they operate. Another side story about copycat Batmans, a side of Batman's personal history with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal: DONNIE DARKO, MONSTER HOUSE). A side story of Harvey Dent and his relationship with Maggie. A side story of the love triangle between Bruce, Maggie, and Harvey, plus a few more besides.
If this was Gore Verbinski directing PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, then we would enjoy all of these sub-plots knowing that they weren't going anywhere and just accept the ride. But Chris Nolan demonstrated how adept he is at winding so many strands of story within one movie when he directed MEMENTO (and if you haven't seen it, you should!). Here the side stories were in greater number, but so was the amount of time that Nolan had to draw them together into a coherent whole.
Chris Nolan brings all the subplots together in a grand finale ending that is smashing! What's more, the shadowy and nihilistic nature of THE DARK KNIGHT should likely make you leave the theater depressed, but instead I came away knowing I had watched and been entertained by the nobility of emotional sacrifice that some people are willing to make for strangers, for the benefit of humanity, or even just the city that they love.
Or if nothing else, out of a profound obligation to children they will never know, that will never have to experience the unerasable memory of watching their own parents murdered before their eyes.
THE DARK KNIGHT is not the TV or Tim Burton cartoon, it's one of the most powerful, action packed, shocking, emotionally satisfying, dark, and uplifting movies ever made. It is simply, wondrous!
Five Shriek Girls.
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