Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight; crime, USA, 2008; D: Christopher Nolan, S: Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Curnen

A mysterious new criminal, the Joker, robs a mob-owned bank. At the same time, a new district attorney is appointed in town, the tough Harvey Dent, who really stirs up some feathers when he arrests over 500 mobsters. In order to complete his "collection", Batman travels to Hong Kong and captures the runaway gangster accountant Lau for him. But then the Joker is hired by the mafia and demands from Batman to reveal his identity or each day people with get killed: after numerous terror attacks, Harvey announces he is Batman and gets attacked by Joker in the police van. The Joker is arrested but escapes and kills Rachel, Harvey's girlfriend. Harvey gets injured in the explosion and mutilated on half of his body, becoming Two-Face. The Joker is arrested again while Two-Face kills numerous people in revenge and Batman takes the blame.

"The Dark Knight" really stirred up some feathers when it went to become the new no. 1 film on IMDb's top 250 list during its premiere, even topping "The Godfather", though such a spike was only temporary and it dropped lower the next year. The movie is overall imprsesive, yet not perfect. There are a few shortcomings: even if the questionable notion that Batman speaks with artificially deep voice to seem more "cool" is ignored, there are other omissions. For instance, despite its long running time, it seems as if some crucial moments were left out, which leaves a hole and disrupts the continuity here and there - after Joker crashes into a party, he throws Rachel out the window and Batman has to save her from falling down a building. He does, but right after that, the film cuts to a new sequence, and it was not shown what happened to the party guests who stayed in the building with Joker's men, i.e. that subplot was left incomplete. The same ellipse is repeated other times, as well: it was not shown how Joker got out of his prison cell, nor what happened to Two-Face before the hospital explosion, nor how Rachel was abudcted, etc. The violence is sometimes banal, excessive or even glorified, the direction "autistic" at times whereas it is not clear why the authors decided to cram 5-6 subplots in the story when they could have concentrated only on the main story - in accordance to that, the Lau subplot is useless. Still, despite those flaws, director Christopher Nolan showed talent at creating a surprisingly realistic Batman with unprecedented crime juncture reminiscent of director M. Mann.

The story is actually a commentary on the War on terror: the Joker (very good Heath Ledger - despite his questionable tendency to 'munch' too often - but not as fun as Nicholson's Joker in the original "Batman" film) is actually a symbol for the terrorist and the plot a contemplation about the integrity of people, about how one should not become evil in order to catch an evil man and how the innocent should not be punished instead of the perpetrators. Bizarrely, the Joker speaks a lot of (anarchic) philosophical theories to Batman that show why he does all those things, like when he says: "Those people are only as good as the world let's them be. When the chips are down, those civilized people will eat each other". No matter how hard Batman beats him up, the Joker enjoys it more and more because the good guys sink to his level of violence, and thus the hero has to find new ways to fight him which gives the story a multi layered edge. Despite its long running time of over 2,5 hours, not a single second is boring while the middle action sequence where Batman's motorcycle ties up the tires of the large truck and forces it to tip backwards is virtuoso directed. Interestingly, Aaron Eckhart steals the show as the energetic district attorney Harvey Dent who becomes Two-Face: his side story amazingly completes the main plot and is filled with brilliant small details (like the sequence where Two-Face finds the mobster who kidnapped his deceased girlfriend Rachel, sitting with him in a driving car. Two-Face flips a coin to find out if he will shoot him: it's heads and the gangster is relieved when he says: "You live". But then he flips the coin again and it's tails, saying: "But your driver doesn't" and shoots the driver, causing the car to collide and crash). If it were not for a few silly ideas (the Joker dressed up as a nurse!) or for the humorless Joker, this could have even been an excellent film, but as it is, it is exciting.


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