Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"The Dark Knight" (Christopher Nolan, 2008)


Directed by Christopher Nolan
Story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Based on the DC Comics Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Executive Produced by Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Thomas Tull and Kevin De La Noy
Produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan
Cinematography by Wally Pfister
Production Design by Nathan Crowley
Costume Design by Lindy Hemming
Editing by Lee Smith
Original Motion Picture Score Composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

Christian Bale ... Bruce Wayne/Batman
Heath Ledger ... The Joker
Aaron Eckhart ... Harvey Dent/Two-Face
Michael Caine ... Alfred Pennyworth
Maggie Gyllenhaal ... Rachel Dawes
Gary Oldman ... James Gordon
Morgan Freeman ... Lucius Fox
Monique Gabriela Curnen ... Detective Anna Ramirez
Ron Dean ... Detective Wuertz
Cillian Murphy ... Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow
Chin Han ... Lau
Nestor Carbonell ... Mayor Anthony Garcia
Eric Roberts ... Salvatore Maroni
Ritchie Coster ... The Chechen
Anthony Michael Hall ... Mike Engel
Keith Szarabajka ... Detective Stephens
Colin McFarlane ... Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb
Joshua Harto ... Coleman Reese
Michael Jai White ... Gambol
Melinda McGraw ... Barbara Gordon
Nathan Gamble ... James Gordon Jr.
Michael Vieau ... Al Rossi
Michael Stoyanov ... Dopey
William Smillie ... Happy
Danny Goldring ... Grumpy
Matthew O'Neill ... Chuckles
William Fichtner ... Bank Manager
David Dastmalchian ... Schiff Thomas
Beatrice Rosen ... Natascha
Nydia Rodriguez Terracina ... Judge Surrillo
Patrick Clear ... Judge Freel
Sarah Jayne Dunn ... Maroni's Mistress

Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent are forced to deal with the chaos unleashed by an anarchist mastermind known only as the Joker, as it drives each of them to their limits.


In a word?



What could I possibly say about 2008’s “The Dark Knight” that hasn’t been said already?

The truth is nothing, so I’ll have to settle for saying it my way.

Christopher Nolan has a clear vision; a vision of an ever evolving saga that seeks and yearns to be founded on logical characterization, compelling drama, plausible action and intelligent reverence.


And whether you agree or not, Nolan undeniably refines that vision in "The Dark Knight;" a vicious, engrossing, overwhelming event of a film that in contemporary terms has completely redefined what one as a viewer can expect from a film that is adapted from a 'comic book.'

Now I don't say that as a means of stating that every film adaptation of a comic should be made with the agenda of becoming "The Dark Knight;" other heroes have other tones and stylings and filmmakers would do best to remember that by honoring their roots rather than try to rip off a successful film like this.

What I mean is just that; filmmakers should approach their own repsective material with as much passion and interpretive vision as Nolan and company.

The days of treating this material without proper respect should be long over thanks to "Knight."


In Nolan's grim, dark depiction of Gotham City, the director strives to give everything a world-trodden and tangible weight (something he began in the well received "Batman Begins"). He makes Batman’s war on crime plausible, possible. And yet there's more to it: just as "Begins" was a dissection of the myth, the nature of symbols and heroes, "Knight" is the escalation of that notion. It's a biblical confrontation of 'good-and-evil', yet as 'good-and-evil' really exists: a conflict of ideals, something that can't be purely-defined but that is relative to a viewpoint. In Nolan's world, the line of villainy and heroism isn't crossed. It's non-existent. The bad guys don't see themselves as bad guys, and as such something so unnerving comes across it might fly past some people's minds (no insult to anybody, it's just common that people don't look deep into 'popcorn flicks'): the battle is a complete ambiguity.


The film runs at a hearty and appreciated 153 minutes, yet it never ceases to lose interest or momentum. Not once. It doesn't waste a scene or a moment; there’s no extraneous shoe leather and if you watch the film when TNT broadcasts it, you’ll notice that not one single scene is edited out for the sake of time. Every action, every set piece and every ounce of dialog and characterization is utilized and necessary.


“The Dark Knight” tells a story worth telling and it takes the proper amount of time to tell it. Action-sequences are frantic, old school, eye popping stunts (vastly superior to "Begins" on terms of pacing, editing and composition) and in their chaotic intensity we see that they serve purpose to the story, yet more interesting are not played for pure entertainment value: we are meant to watch, petrified, simply hoping that the outcome will go the hero's way. Attention is never lost because we are immersed in a breathtaking, almost completely-unpredictable story (it packs many a shock), that makes us think and more importantly gains our emotional-investment.

We come to care for the characters, because they are believable, developed, and personified fully.


The cast is pure A-grade. With both the absence of Katie Holmes and the injection of new cast, every player in “The Dark Knight” brings their skill to the table, an act that the character of Batman should always demand from involved and skilled casts.


Now some people cite that “Knight” has a potential fatal flaw in the supposedly wooden acting of Christian Bale. Admittedly, his development is not as grand as in "Begins" (yet that film DID give us such a good psychoanalysis of Wayne, we hardly need more. By this point, the persona’s established. It was time for the Bat to leave the roost and see if he’d fall or fly), yet what Bale pulls off is admirable.


Wayne is not an eccentric personality. He is a disillusioned man who can hardly find any joy in having no family, giving up his love interest and spending his life fighting a battle that may never end. This is a younger Batman; one that is trying to come to terms with the terms he’s defined and it’s fascinating to watch him wrestle between what he wants, what he needs and what he has to sacrifice regardless.

He's dark and conflicted, and Bale plays up on that brooding-mood by making Wayne look as though a thousand dark things were on his mind. He's not wooden. He's a humorless, quiet individual, just as a burgeoning dark knight would be.


Even when Wayne is acting as a frivolous playboy for the public, every now and then Bale offers us a powerful glance that reminds us it’s all a façade; that deep down, something more disturbed irks him. Occasionally he offers a broken-smile when exchanging banter with Alfred, letting us know that beyond the dour depression of the Caped Crusader lays a heavily fractured human being. It is only in the guise of a growling masked vigilante that he can unleash his true, ferocious personality.

In many ways, fans have shown concern that the character is lost amongst the scope of the picture but looking at the eventual outcome of the film’s ending and Batman’s ultimate sacrifice, I disagree. This film might not be as directly about Batman as “Batman Begins” was, but it’s focus on Batman is intact, broadening itself to detail the consequences of Wayne’s actions both prior to and within the context of the film.


Everyone has great-chemistry together on screen. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a more mature Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes. Morgan Freeman provides his authoritative presence to the role of gadget-inventor/Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox, and under anyone else's portrayal, the part would be less memorable. Gary Oldman underplays his world-wearied lawman with such honest nobility; you never feel for a second any of its forced acting. His ascension to Police Commissioner is well deserved and congratulated.

The irreplaceable Michael Caine makes a gentle, reassuring father like presence as Alfred, and the movie would surely fail without his strong-resolve and interjected moments of light humor. And even bit actors like Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall and Keith Szarabajka populate the film with such charisma and character; it’s truly something when your ENTIRE cast is of this quality.


While everyone (rightfully) pours the praise unto Bale and Ledger being the standouts, I think most initially glanced over "Knight"s breakout performance. As Harvey Dent, Aaron Eckhart does more than hold himself in the company of such a renowned cast. He makes his presence known, whether he's playing on the easy going charisma of being Gotham's 'White-Knight' or the broken, damaged and twisted soul of Two-Face. He achieves a full-impact with the tragedy that comes unto his character, and so closely connects with Dent, that he makes his pain tangible for us: we sympathize even as we become terrified. He captures both facets of each personality flawlessly and his fall from grace is truly the backbone of the entire film, as Nolan has stated on numerous occasions.

"You thought we could be decent men, in an indecent time. But you were wrong."


"Why So Serious?"

It goes without saying that the most talked about cast member and performance of the film is the Joker, as performed by the late Heath Ledger. Now, when he was first announced for the part, I (along with many other people) was asking myself: "Why?"

Yes, Mr. Ledger had proved with "Brokeback Mountain" he could deliver a potent performance. But as a Batman fan, I knew the Joker was a different story than a cowboy with homosexual longings. But the response was bubbling beneath the surface. The industry was abuzz. There were rumors, strong ones, concerning the brilliance of the performance; even words like ‘Oscar’ and ‘Academy Award’ were being thrown around.


At first I didn’t want to believe it, as great as it sounded. Why get your hopes up concerning an award no other Comic Book adaptation had ever hoped to reach before? Not that the verdict of the MPAA dictates what I can or cannot consider a masterful performance but it’s truly a mark of genius that in this regard, we were in perfect and harmonious agreement.

Tragically the news of Ledger’s shocking accidental death in January of 2008 began pouring in, and that was the first time I started to buy into how tremendous this performance would be, albeit under tremendously bitter circumstances.


Needless to say, all of that anticipation paid off in spades, and Heath left behind not only the most memorable performance of his too-short career but perhaps the most memorable performance of the decade.


When Heath first appears in the movie, he is completely unrecognizable. His voice is distinctly altered; a near whiny, pedophile-like tone that sends shivers down the spine. His face is completely splattered with makeup that renders him both freakishly nightmarish and strangely funny. And when you see him, you don't think it's him. In this, his final performance, Ledger proved he was a chameleon. His two iconic performances in this and "Brokeback" couldn't be more different. I am convinced he could have been anything in his career. He commits so intensely to character that the line of actor/portrayal isn’t just blurred, it’s erased. His every tick and gesture only further enhances his Joker into a truly sinister and evil creature of a man.


Heath never hams the role up or goes for something cheap: he delivers a fully immersed display of psychotic madness. Or do we just label him that to feel safer? The movie writes the character brilliantly, blending terrifying truth into his every social accusation, and making us question why we laugh at his sick jokes knowing in the back of our minds that there’s a definite grain of truth in what he believes.

The resulting philosophical conflict between Joker and Batman is as fascinating here as its ever been in the comics.

The Joker is a chaotic manifestation of all the horrible conotations that people perceive of Batman, and Batman is struggling to hold onto the hope that he's not as similar to the Joker as he might have to admit.


The technical advances made in the film are astounding, providing a very rich experience. Cinematographer Wally Pfister should be commendednot just for the lighting of the film, which combines ‘glossy and lavish’ with ‘urban grit and decay,’ but for the utilization of IMAX camera technology for a handful of the opening exterior shots of both Gotham City and Hong Kong as well as several full-blown sequences.

Seeing the film in IMAX wasn’t a necessity as far as enjoying and following the film but I did jump at the opportunity when the film was re-released for a short period. And let me tell you; the images of Batman gliding across Hong Kong and the Joker with guns blazing on the IMAX screen will stay with me forever.

Rightfully, Pfister would go on to win the Academy Award for cinematography for Christopher Nolan's science fiction epic "Inception."

Pushing it one step further, there are a handful of single shots in the film that are composed in such a large, iconic fashion that I would very easily consider them works of art.


Batman gliding over the Hong Kong skyline.


The Joker hanging out the side of a GPD Squad Car as he makes his escape from the MCU.


A scarred and bandaged Dent screaming at the realization that Rachel is dead.


Batman kneeling in sorrow as Barbara Gordon curses him.

The Joker walking away as Gotham General Hospital is engulfed in an inferno.


Batman standing within the rubble of 250 52nd street.

All parts of a lush, visual mosaic.

The production design isn’t as groundbreaking (for me) as Burton’s original film. While the sets of “The Dark Knight” are still made with such passion and quality, the production design in “Batman” has more character to it, I feel.

But again “Knight” is still amazing in this regard.


Wayne’s Penthouse is a gorgeous display of modernism with marble floors, glass and chrome (this, more than any other comic book pad – aside from Wayne Manor and Tony Stark’s Malibu Manson – is the place I’d want to live).


I also love the utilitarian approach to the holding cells and interrogation rooms that reside in the MCU.


And of course there’s Batman’s new base of operations which looks magnificent, like a giant and perfectly structured concrete stronghold box. Here I thought I was going to miss the Batcave, but the underground garage fits well (both because story-wise it was necessary following the destruction of Wayne Manor in “Batman Begins,” but it also works from a design perspective given Batman’s almost militaristic approach to crime fighting in this day and age.)

I was a bit disappointed that the Joker himself doesn’t have his own digs, like the Axis Chemicals basement in Burton’s first film, but I did like the nod to the characters constant use of Amusement Park hideouts and the like throughout his own history with the Hyams Amusement Park truck.


The costume design is also a testament to Nolan’s approach to the material. Here, Batman is given yet another Batsuit, but it isn’t change for change’s sake. There’s reason and a good one. The Batsuit IS a tad busy, but the concept of armored plating is very cool and the ability for Batman to FINALLY turn his head without his torso following suit is a breakthrough.


The Joker is something else.

He’s still recognizable with the use of Purple and Green and giving him a suit of sorts but it’s scruffier, dirtier and rougher in broad strokes. It makes sense in a way, given that Ledger’s Joker is a man who wouldn’t have a care in the world about his hygiene (although I admittedly was raised on a Joker that was a bit more vain and conscious about appearance, what with being a showman and all).

However it works well here and all of the parallels to grunge and punk rock are well founded (why couldn’t Kids WB’s “The Batman” do the same thing? Makes you wonder).


Composers Zimmer and Howard provide us with a score that’s leaps and bounds above “Batman Begins” with its use of high tension strings and electric guitar grit (every time you hear them, you KNOW the Joker is closing in) and these eerie cascading sounds. They also do well to flesh out the score a bit more, which I appreciate.

My favorite moment in the score, bar none, is the building of tension when Commissioner Loeb, Judge Surrillo and Harvey Dent are simultaneously attacked (arguably one of my favorite moments in the film). As far as the released soundtrack, my favorite track would have to be “Harvey Two Face” showcasing the uplifting rise of Dent and the tragic fall of Two-Face.

The make-up should also be commented on.

The Joker’s look, along with his costume, is visually jarring. Being a fan that’s so used to a fully bleached Joker resulting in a chemical plunge, I was a bit confused with the make-up approach. But damn it, it works. Any hang ups I had about it were resolved quickly. Thanks to both Nolan and Ledger, everything concerning the Joker works.


But for me, Eckhart’s Two-Face make up is just incredible, and it's incredible because it isn't make-up at all, but rather visual effects. For something so delicate and particular to be rendered and handled digitally is amazing. 

When you first see it, you just shudder and squint your eyes in pain it’s that gruesome. Visually, it is the BEST Two-Face I’ve ever seen (making Tommy Lee Jones and the animated renditions look like child’s play).

The action is pulse-pounding and operatic in its scale.


Batman’s assault on LSI holdings in Hong Kong is well choreographed and well executed and the idea of bringing in Sky-Hook was a nice touch. It also demonstrates Batman's tactile nature; a true war on crime being fought not just by a vigilante but a soldier.

Batman’s fist fights both in Hong Kong and at Maroni’s club are also very well done, especially the latter, showcasing Batman as a tough-as-nails warrior making quick work of Salvatore’s thugs and Sal himself.

“From one professional to another, if you’re trying to scare somebody pick a better spot. From this height, fall wouldn’t kill me.”

“I’m counting on it.”


Then we’ve got the truck chase as Joker works to get to Harvey, which gives us the wonderful moment of debuting Batman’s newest crime-fighting device; the Bat Pod. It molds quite well with the design aesthetic of the Tumbler and I personally prefer it to the Tumbler; kudos to designer Nathan Crowley and to both Crowley and Nolan for holding off on giving Batman a 2nd vehicle until the sequel.

And that truly dynamic moment of the Joker’s semi flipping vertically; my jaw dropped the first time I saw that, no joke.

I also love the Prewitt Building sequence and the Ferries. You couldn’t even cut the tension with a machete, it was so thick. Even watching the film now I still hold my breath, despite knowing the outcome. After a film that's been so emotionally charged by this point, it's nearly unfathomable how Nolan can build from there and yet he effortlessly pulls it off.

"No, there's no time. We have clear shots! Dent is in there with them, we have to save Dent. I...have to save Dent."

It was also a stroke of genius having Batman continuously work to both disable the police without killing them and rescuing the hostages. It paints a target on Batman's back before the end of the film and it's such a finely-tuned set piece. The action, like the rest of the film, is so well grounded and narratively dictated without being gratuitous.


Another great aspect of the film is its depiction of the detective side of Batman’s character. Sure we’ve seen him huddled over the Bat-Computer in other films but if memory serves me right we never once saw an official live action scene of Batman out in the field, visiting a crime scene. That’s one of my favorite smaller moments in the film, seeing him on sight going through the motions of investigation (although that whole ‘fingerprint off a bullet’ gimmick was a bit odd, it’s certainly creative).

“I need ten minutes with the scene before your people contaminate it.”

But the hands down greatest scene in the film is the finale in its entirety, for the sole fact that it takes the myth and history of the Batman character and spins it in a way that’s not only shocking and unexpected but makes all the sense in the world.



Prior to the film, I’d never once read a story or seen anything concerning Batman taking the fall and blame for a villain’s actions for the sake of retaining order, faith and fragile moral in Gotham City. That move was simply genius. Needless to say, I eagerly await the outcome and conclusion of the story in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“The Dark Knight” has had an incredible-amount of hype running for it from the get-go, mounting ever-higher, and percolating with Heath Ledger's all-too-soon passing.

Sometimes the praise is overwhelming, but that’s not the issue. It’s that it’s wild and unfocused. But that’s not to say it’s undeserved. In short, calling the film the greatest thing since the wheel or sliced bread is going too far but that’s not what I’m doing.


The finished-product does more than exceed all of the near-impossible expectations placed upon it. It does become something much richer than a super-hero-franchise-saga.

Christopher Nolan has opened a new door on action cinema: allowing material that would traditionally be regarded as the stuff of children to become more serious, capable of intelligence. Through this approach, Nolan has transformed “The Dark Knight” from a comic book movie sequel (technically the 6th contemporary Batman film) into a piece of sheer artwork full of beauty, terror, moral-conundrums and heroism by those both in and out of a cowl.

This movie has changed things. Forever.

From here, despite the efforts of “Punisher: War Zone,” “The Spirit” or most recently “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” there truly is, to quote the Joker, “no going back.”

One of the greatest films of the past decade, “The Dark Knight” is a cinematic masterpiece in every sense of the phrase.



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