Jonathan Poritsky

Review: The Dark Knight

A sky­line, a seething film score, and an explo­sion in a win­dow set the pace for the thrill ride that is “The Dark Knight”. As has become the norm for epic block­busters, Christopher Nolan’s lat­est re-visioning of the Batman saga for­goes open­ing cred­its in an effort to throw us right into the mad­ness of a dete­ri­o­rat­ing Gotham City. As I sat there in a dark­ened the­ater lis­ten­ing to the low growl of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score, my heart ached in antic­i­pa­tion for what­ever would come next as I repo­si­tioned squarely to the edge of my seat. Good thing, because noth­ing pre­pared me for what I would go through for the next 160 min­utes.

Drawing on 1970s crime films for an inspi­ra­tional palette rather than the com­puter gen­er­ated mind-warps that have become the norm ever since “Titanic” hit, Nolan’s team has crafted an expe­ri­ence in nerves that is deserv­ing of the lunacy of the caped crusader’s cur­rent foe, the Joker. The villain’s devi­ous plots will tie your stom­ach into knots mak­ing you feel as psy­cho­log­i­cally drained as the poor vic­tims of his crimes, but the toll it will take on you is cer­tainly well worth the fun you’ll have watch­ing every­thing unfold. The action is, with­out ques­tion, the best you’ll find this sum­mer. The film con­tains at least two incred­i­bly tense moments of inter­cut destruc­tion that will make you dig your fin­ger­nails deep into your arm­rest, not to men­tion the shoot-em-up chase mid­way through that will have you cheer­ing from the back row.

Let’s get this out of the way: Heath Ledger’s per­for­mance is not ghoul­ish and it is cer­tainly not any more impres­sive as a result of his untimely death. It is dis­heart­en­ing that we have lost such a tal­ented young impre­sario, but it is not as hard to swal­low as, say, watch­ing Owen Wilson reveal sui­ci­dal wounds in “The Darjeeling Limited” shortly after slash­ing his wrists in real life. Make no mis­take, Mr. Ledger’s final role is his best, among the best char­ac­ter­i­za­tions onscreen one can find. It is rem­i­nis­cent of watch­ing Sir Anthony Hopkins become Hannibal Lecter; Johnny Depp become Captian Jack Sparrow, or Marlon Brando become Vito Corleone (to name but a few). To dis­cuss it here doesn’t do it much jus­tice, so let’s move on.

Christian Bale reprises his role as the playboy/asshole ver­sion of Bruce Wayne he pio­neered in “Batman Begins”, this time from a pent­house rather than the more tra­di­tional Wayne Manor. He does a fine job as the caped cru­sader, but it is hard to tell since a lot of the other char­ac­ters get what feels like more face time. Besides Ledger’s joker, we get a mov­ing per­for­mance by Aaron Eckhart as D.A. Harvey Dent, an under­stated and alto­gether redemp­tive one from Gary Oldman as good-cop Jim Gordon, and sage brevity from both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman play­ing both the per­sonal and pro­fes­sional bet­ter halves of Mr. Wayne in Alfred and Lucius Fox, respec­tively. Maggie Gyllenhaal, while not nec­es­sar­ily let­ting her­self loose on the role of Rachel Dawes, pro­vides a won­der­ful upgrade to Katie Holmes, the weak­est part of the last out­ing. The point here: when Mr. Nolan juiced up his spe­cial effects team, he in no way skimped on mem­o­rable per­for­mances all around, a depress­ing rar­ity in the crash-bang films we’ve seen in recent years.

Speaking of spe­cial effects, one would think that by 2008, after all that we have seen we might have seen it all. One would be wrong. We have all seen car chases, hell we’ve prob­a­bly seen hun­dreds on screen, but the one com­posed in the mid­dle of the film by Mr. Nolan is noth­ing short of genius, rem­i­nis­cent of the thrill of watch­ing Popeye Doyle chase an ele­vated sub­way in “The French Connection”. The fix is the exact oppo­site here, the Joker forces a police motor­cade to take an under­pass turn­ing them into “turkeys on Thanksgiving”, but its meter­ing is spot on for rais­ing our ten­sion. We know that we are in for some­thing spe­cial, so we brace our­selves. What fol­lows is a lyri­cal mas­ter­work of ups, downs, explo­sions, sur­prises and a cherry on top that has resulted in cheer­ing at both screen­ings I have been to. Nolan doesn’t let you out of the woods quite yet though, for you are in for even more of those moments, where your head is left spin­ning by both the cruel inten­sity and inane joy that comes from watch­ing every­thing explode in front of your eyes.

Maybe, just maybe, if the action were merely this good, the film would be great. Throw in the phe­nom­e­nal and plen­ti­ful per­for­mances and you work towards some­thing won­der­ful, but when you add in the solid sto­ry­line, replete with pre­cise dia­logue and impec­ca­ble tim­ing, and real-crime drama stylings, the film becomes noth­ing short of bril­liant. It is the best film of 2008 so far, and audi­ences are actu­ally going to see it. Who could ask for any­thing more?

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