movie film review | chris tookey

Dark Knight

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  Dark Knight Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
7.74 /10
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger
Full Cast >

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

Released: 2008
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 152

Overlong and pretentious Ė but a hit.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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The Dark Knight deserves part of its hype. Heath Ledger (pictured) makes the Joker a memorably creepy, deranged villain. Itís the kind of showy, if insubstantial, role that attracts an Oscar.

Most of the stunts are spectacular, the new batbike looks cool, and Batman does a neat trick of lassoing a truck so that it does a back flip. Jails and hospitals blow up, on an impressive if preposterous scale. Batman even carries out a daring kidnap in Hong Kong.

And some of the best scenes in British director Christopher Nolanís film are the small, still ones, such as when one of Bruce Wayneís accountants threatens to expose his identity as Batman unless he is paid 10 million dollars a year for life, and Wayneís tame scientist (Morgan Freeman) suavely suggests he may be unwise to blackmail a zillionaire whoís ruthlessly ultra-violent.

Thereís more than enough entertainment and eye candy to make this a hit.

So why donít I rate it more highly? My most heartfelt complaint would be about the noise. The film has the worst sound balance I have ever heard. Poor diction, a bombastic score (even when nothing exciting is happening) and over-enthusiastic effects made much of the dialogue inaudible in the print that was shown to me.

The plot is often impossible to follow. And the movie, though dark, isnít as deep as some have claimed. Itís pretentious and overblown, and its unwarranted length of over two and a half hours left me more fidgety than exhilarated.

At the start of The Dark Knight, Batman (Christian Bale) is in trouble. Copycat vigilantes with guns are ruining his reputation. He muses that the time may have come for him to hang up his cape, so that the girl of his dreams (Maggie Gyllenhaal, a distinct improvement on Katie Holmes but still saddled with a poorly written role) will marry him. ďGotham needs a hero with a face,Ē Batman announces.

The replacement hero he chooses is clean-cut District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and they set out to destroy organised crime in Gotham, with the help of honest police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, seriously under-energised).

But they are reckoning without The Joker (Heath Ledger), a maniacal arch-criminal whose motivation is not so much greed as anarchy. As Batmanís faithful butler (Michael Caine) puts it, ďSome men just want to watch the world burn.Ē

Ledger plays the Joker as a terrorist with no redeeming features, who gets a sexual thrill from threatening people with his knife and savouring their fear - an all too topical quirk. Heís as implacable as Javier Bardemís killer in No Country for Old Men, but with smudged clown make-up, a flickering, reptilian tongue and the same macabre malevolence that Malcolm McDowell brought to A Clockwork Orange.

Ledger is subtler and scarier than Jack Nicholson was in Tim Burtonís first Batman movie; but his character has nowhere to go except madder and madder. And his success makes little sense. When a villain kills his own associates as readily as this one murders the forces of law and order, itís difficult to see how he ever attracts the multitude of helpers he would need. Also, for an anarchist, heís ridiculously well organised.

So, although the Joker is an arresting screen presence, you donít believe in him for an instant.

Some of the plot twists, too, left me unconvinced Ė especially the transformation of Harvey Dent, which seems too sudden and melodramatic.

One reason Batman Begins impressed was that you could follow the logic of the charactersí actions and enjoy the explanation of how and why a damaged, parentless child came to be a superhero. In The Dark Knight, Batman has become a bore. Christian Bale is handsome and can be a fine actor, but here heís monotonous, dull and lugubrious. When the Joker tells him ďI wonít kill you because youíre just too much fun!Ē itís impossible to see what he is on about.

Christopher Nolan and his co-writer brother Jonathan evidently think Batman is a figure whose tragic qualities have Shakespearian depth. He isnít Ė mainly because his problems arenít universal enough. How many of us face the problem of having a split personality, or unlimited wealth, or the responsibility of being solely able to fight the worst kinds of crime?

You can take a character out of a comic strip, but you canít take the comic-strip out of the character. Batman is not a tragic hero at all, but an adolescent action-figure with the kind of problems most of us can only dream of having. This may make him good box-office, especially among males who feel ineffectual, impoverished and lacking in even one personality; but it doesnít give him the depth of Hamlet.

Their summer blockbuster explores grand themes: whether it can be right to use torture on terrorists, the conflict between public and private morality, whether the public prefers to be told lies rather than deal with the truth. The Nolan brothers are clearly determined not to be confused with the Nolan sisters.

I appreciate their ambition; but theyíve overreached Ė and lost their sense of humour. Their movie is compromised by the perceived demands of its audience. Itís grimly sadistic. It doesnít fight terror. It embraces it.

Ledger becomes, in a curiously twisted way, the moral centre of the movie, and this makes The Dark Knight an unintentionally sick spectacle, pretending to justify law and justice but in reality celebrating violence and chaos.

Thereís plenty in this blockbuster to admire, but I canít honestly say that I enjoyed it.

Incidentally, although itís been allocated a 12A certificate, itís completely unsuitable for children, who will find it much too murky, incomprehensible and frightening. In a sane universe where movie industry-financed Jokers werenít running, and ruining, film classification, this would be a 15.

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