May 20, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Friday, 25 July 2008 13:05
To call the new Batman film, The Dark Knight, just another movie based on a comic book hero would be to undervalue what will surely emerge as one of the year’s most highly regarded films. Rarely in our cinema memory has the confrontation between good and evil been so deliberately layered and creatively executed. There’s enough going on among all these characters to fill many movies. Leave it to the talented director, Christopher Nolan, to fill this Batman episode to the brim with excitement.
The characters, and basic situations, are familiar to most moviegoers. What is most enthralling about The Dark Knight is how it twists people and places etched in our movie memories in ways we could never expect. We are conditioned, by the original Batman television and movie adaptations, to expect our favorite late-night hero to personify all that is good in the world. But Nolan is too clever for that, giving this caped crusader as much potential for evil as his most sinister opponents.
While earlier incarnations of the story celebrated Batman’s selfless heroics, Nolan reconsiders the man’s motives, even suggesting a more selfish call to action. The result is a film that dares to add surprising depth to what could have been just another summer blockbuster. Thank goodness for a director who takes risks.
The easy-to-follow plot does not, actually, require previous familiarity with the material. Just when it seems safe to walk the streets of Gotham City, the mean-spirited Joker and his friends in the underworld begin to stir up trouble. Batman, once the hero of the day, is surprisingly ambiguous in his efforts to stop the crime surge, making those close to him more than a bit confused. Adding to the complexity are the multiple agendas of a policeman on the hunt, a mayor with ambitions, a district attorney with a future and an employee with a conscience. They confront each other in a series of beautifully staged action sequences (free from over-reliance on computer generation) that add up to a very entertaining 2-1/2 hours in the theater. But the achievement of The Dark Knight reaches far beyond its entertainment value. This is a serious film about the complicated issues that threaten how we live in urban settings today. By framing this message in the familiarity of characters and situations we think we know, the horror of the piece is even more powerful.
Even if the film were not so memorable, The Dark Knight would be remembered for the perfect performance from the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. Nothing in the actor’s past — not even his Oscar-nominated work in Brokeback Mountain — prepares you for the way he inhabits the depth of this villain’s soul. Choosing to play the character in three dimensions — versus the one-dimensional effort by Jack Nicholson in the original Batman film — Ledger turns what could have been a cardboard cut-out into a fully realized examination of what evil can do a man’s heart, drive and sense of caring. The other performances are, as well, very strong. Aaron Eckart is charismatic as the self-assured district attorney; Gary Oldman is effectively restrained as the socially responsible policeman; Michael Caine is, well, Michael Caine as the dutiful butler; and Maggie Gyllenhaal is lovely and credible as a popular love interest. Christian Bale, as in Batman Begins, is a strong choice for the title role, bringing believable depth to what could have been a surface portrayal.
The Dark Knight dares to be an eloquent, disturbing meditation on a world so comfortable with good and evil that it’s not sure if it needs any more heroes. That such a message is framed in a comic book story is a startling achievement. This will be remembered as one of the year’s best screen entertainments.
Note to Parents: The Dark Knight may appeal to children of many ages of but it’s not a film for children of many ages. In fact, it is not appropriate for young children, and its violence may be inappropriate, as well, for children under age 13 or 14. Those children looking for a light comic book movie may be disappointed by the deep thoughts, complex characters and quiet moments between action sequences. For parents, however, the film can provide opportunity for conversation, especially the discussion of the complex characters and how they react to each other.
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