The Dark Knight
Heart of Darkness
You may already have read or seen a lot to do with The Dark Knight by the time this review lands in your lap or loads on your screen. You may even be slightly fatigued by the press coverage or even possibly a little suspicious of the media machine.
Don’t be. This is different. Believe the hype.
This is no more a comic book tale than The Godfather was about gangsters or Lawrence of Arabia was an episode of Rough Guide to the Middle East. If you think it’s going to be cartoon-like or for the kids, then think again. In fact, if you removed the masks and gadgets you’d have one the best crime movies (think Heat, but better) ever made.
If you aren’t familiar with the previous movies you needn’t panic. The Dark Knight is that rare beast of summer spectacles – it neither needs a prequel nor expects a sequel. And that is the key to its immense success and gripping storytelling. It has been designed to stand alone.
The credit must go to British director Christopher Noland (Memento and Insomnia) who resurrected the story of the billionare playboy turned vigilante back in 2005 with Batman Begins. Noland’s premise with these two movies was to focus primarily on how these complex damaged characters interact in Gotham City (a mix of New York and Chicago).
In doing so he managed to gather some of Hollywood’s best actors and actresses even for the smaller supporting roles (Michael Caine as a butler, Morgan Freeman as a company exec). This depth of quality translates into very few moments of cringe-worthy ham-acting.
Christian Bale, as Bruce Wayne/Batman, is a perfect study of coiled-up aggression. His Wayne is a man driven by ego and the need to impress, especially as his ex girlfriend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has fallen for Gotham City’s new district attorny Harvey Dent (a brilliant Aaron Eckhart). Dent is hailed as the city’s white knight after he goes after the organised crime bosses (with the help of Gary Oldman’s police commissioner Gordon) in a manner not too dissimilar to Kevin Costner in The Untouchables.
Wayne is also keen to hang up the cloak of Batman and leave the crime fighting to Dent. However, Dent’s arrests only lead to the introduction of the film’s real gem, The Joker.
Heath Ledger (who passed away in January) may get a posthumous Oscar for this role, so intense and chilling are the moments when he is on screen. His Joker far outstrips Jack Nicolson’s 1989 attempt (directed by Tim ‘Overated’ Burton).
His savage attacks on Gotham City create an atmosphere of desperation and fear similar to today’s climate of terror. In trying to stop The Joker, how far will the city go to keep its citizens safe?
Batman has to face his very human limits (he does after all, unlike other comic books, have no superpowers) when faced with an enemy who can be threatened by nothing. Do you have to become as bad as the people you’re trying to stop in order to end the violence? What will desperate men do in the face of evil?
Every scene and set piece is rich in significance and ominousness. Just when you think it’s all over it goes further, deeper, and ratchets up the excitement. At two and a half hours this is no film for the faint-hearted. And yet, I gladly wanted more.
And why not? Most summer movies are very shallow. Not so The Dark Knight. Time is given to developing the characters with numerous themes and subplots weaving themselves together. Repeat viewings will no doubt bring out more of the richness lost the first time around.
In attempting to preserve Gotham City’s faith in Harvey Dent, Batman tells police commissioner Gordon to pin a series of murders on him. He knows the city he loves will now hate him even though, in doing so, he has given them hope. As he runs away, a young boy who knows the truth, says, ‘Why are they hunting him? He’s done nothing wrong.’
In troubled times we are quick to judge our leaders and lead witch hunts against our role models. Rarely do we question those motives.
They crucified Jesus out of fear. We must remember not to do the same with our ministers, MPs, bosses and, yes, our sporting idols and tabloid celebrities.