As I’ve mentioned here before, if I don’t see a movie within about a week of its debut, I probably won’t see it until it hits cable or DVD. Thus, with all of the attendant hype, I made a strong effort to see THE DARK KNIGHT and thanks to Pres. Bush’s belated stimulus check I was able to do so yesterday…and it was good!
Is it the greatest comic book movie ever? Well, not a clear winner anyway. Maybe if I thought awhile on that one… What it is, however, is a dark, loud, brassy, sassy crime thriller that just happens to have a couple of insane men circling each other at its center. The obvious thing that sets THE DARK KNIGHT apart from most superhero films is the acting. One could make a case that Gary Oldman is one of our greatest living film actors and here he shows it with an uncharacteristically quiet, nuanced performance as Lt (and later Commisioner Gordon). This is a man who literally became Sid Vicious, Count Dracula, Beethoven and even Harry Potter’s Sirius Black! You couldn’t tell it from his classy performance here. Given more to do than in the last picture, he excels wonderfully but never steals a single scene!
Aaron Eckhart, an actor with whom I was previously unfamiliar, is a handsome, charismatic, scene-stealing (he’s the one!) Harvey Dent…and we all knew where THAT was going, didn’t we? My young companion was a tad slow to the revelation but at one point, she whispered a sotto voce "Two-Face!" In any other film, Eckhart might have walked away with the picture. As everyone is sadly all too aware, however, THE DARK KNIGHT is not just any film.
Heath Ledger. He’s dead. I was sad. I wasn’t a huge fan. In fact, just a night or two before his death, I had caught 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU on cable and that was probably the first thing I had ever seen him in. I was, however, immediately impressed. Knowing full well that he had already portrayed the Joker in this then-yet-to-be-released film, I became hopeful for a wild ride. In spite of the hype, I was not disappointed.
Heath Ledger is honestly way too good for this picture! His anarchistic Joker is never really given a solid backstory; he just exists as if bringing the chaos back to Gotham City’s order was his karmic duty. The actor imbues the role with quirks and ticks and a bizarre sense of not fitting in. If you notice, he remains remarkably calm in nearly every scene where all hell is breaking loose around him and maniacally wired only when everyone else seems still.
His voice is creepy, his look is genuinely scary and the things he does are so violently nonsensical that one literally has no idea what he’s likely to do next! That said, it is far from the expected over-the-top performance seen from his predecessors, Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson. It is clearly well-thought out and designed for maximum effect and yet not overplayed. Does he deserve an Oscar nod? Don’t know. Again, I think the main reason he stands out is because he’s too good for the room.
Another reason Ledger’s performance resonates is that it plays off of Christian Bale’s Batman and he’s the weak spot of the movie! Seriously, he’s perfectly fine in the dual lead role but overshown even by the legendary Michael Caine effortlessly giving depth to Alfred the butler—a character not exactly known for his depth! Given a serious script and a realistic-looking batsuit, Bale is a credible Caped Crusader and an intelligent, civic-minded Bruce Wayne. Even the love triangle with Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gylenhaal is smoothly played.
While there are some amusing moments, there are no outright laughs in THE DARK KNIGHT, just thrills, chills and a complicated crime story eventually overshadowed by the philosophical forces of order and chaos as represented by Batman and the Joker in their age-old struggle. With sharp writing and impressive direction, it is an excellent superhero movie. Go see it! (I’ll wait)
Seen here is me in the Joker T-shirt from sometime in the 1990’s that I dug out of mothballs for the occasion. Let’s face it, if I didn’t wear it to see this movie, what COULD I wear it to??