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Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan, wr/dir
Review by Drew Bittner
 
Date: 31 July 2008 /

Batman meets his greatest enemy as Gotham City is rocked to its core.

When the Joker hits town, things are going to turn bad... fast...

Cast: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman * Heath Ledger as The Joker * Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent * Michael Caine as Alfred * Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes * Gary Oldman as Lt. Jim Gordon * Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox

The crime bosses of Gotham are desperate, and desperate men do stupid things. Dangerous things.

They listen to the Joker (Ledger)--and a dark night indeed falls on Gotham City.

This is the tale of The Dark Knight, writer/director Christopher Nolan's sequel to the hugely successful 2005 film Batman Begins. Batman is now a known and widely feared fact of life; the police tacitly endorse his vigilante reign of terror, while the criminals scarcely dare go above ground. The new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Eckhart), is poised to take the battle against crime to a whole new level, prompting Bruce Wayne (Bale) to wonder if Gotham needs a Batman any more.

And honestly, Batman is getting a bit complacent, taking down a petty scheme by the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy, reprising his character from the previous film) and telling a batch of Batman-wannabes to call it quits or else. And that's when an audacious, brilliantly executed (literally) bank robbery takes Gotham's defender by surprise.

A new criminal has come to town, a demented freak in white makeup and a purple suit, who calls himself the Joker. Is he insane... or evil? Nobody knows, keeping everyone guessing. One thing is for certain--he's absolutely terrifying, especially when he's cracking a joke. (Watch him make a pencil disappear.)

The Joker's diabolic schemes catch everyone off guard. Dent, and his coworker/girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes), discover their lives are in danger, while Wayne considers going even further outside the law than he already is. Meanwhile, Gordon assumes ever greater responsibility but finds that there are major pitfalls to being the one in charge.

Nolan and crew have made the first real post-9/11 movie. In the starkest terms, this movie is about terrorism and how panic first infects, then destroys society. The Joker is a terrorist--his schemes are designed to drive the city crazy with fear--and Batman is confronted with an existential threat: what is he willing to do to stop this madman?

It's powerful filmmaking, not easy to watch and rarely lagging (although a few scenes in the middle do slow the pace considerably), but it is destined to be a classic not just among superhero movies, but among great films altogether.

Bale is astounding as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, a delicate balancing act that few actors have navigated successfully. He is glib and shallow as a koi pond as Wayne, yet his dark glances betray the workings of a brilliant mind as he considers Dawes and Eckhart--and sees the shape of his future in black bat letters.

Yes, Ledger is really as good as the hype says. His performance elevates the movie whenever he is on screen, and serves as the keenest reminder of the talent that has been lost far too soon. If any actor should be remembered for a single great performance, however, this is far and away the one Ledger should be remembered for giving. He invests the Joker with sick malice in every syllable, his broken voice like a throat full of jagged glass; he makes terrible jokes and mocks cliches of a bad childhood turning him to a life of crime. What can be said, except the obvious: he will be greatly missed.

Gyllenhaal takes over the role of Rachel Dawes, investing her with cool, steely intelligence and courage, while Eckhart brings unsuspected depth to the role of Harvey Dent, a public crusader pushed to his limits by dangers he cannot comprehend. Together, they become one of this movie's strongest emotional mainstays; apart, they are mesmerizing in how they approach a looming disaster--with very different outcomes.

Oldman is great as Gordon, a cop whose honesty and integrity leave him with some fatal blind spots. And Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are absolute magic as Alfred and Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne's support system and anchor to reality. In their own ways, they make Batman possible, doing their best to save him from his most desperate impulses.

Gotham City is more grounded, more real in this film, making the riotous moments of civic horror all the more wracking as they occur. The Joker's plan (he does have one) is apparent only in retrospect; the ending bleeds with the suffering of a dream that has died hard. Nolan has spared no emotional punches-- there are moments in this film that are shocking in their brutal intensity-- but it all works.

It's grim and gritty, in the truest senses of the words, but it's a great film.

Strongly recommended.

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