Kevin's Review: The Dark Knight - The Dark Has Never Been So Bright
by Kevin Powers
July 16, 2008
It feels completely counter-intuitive to care little about the special effects and action in The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's sequel to his 2005 Batman Begins. For a movie like this, you naturally expect to be engrossed by garish gadgetry, incredible stunts and seat-gripping adventure. The Dark Knight has all of this, don't get me wrong, but even the most intricately executed explosion or choreographed car crash does little to shock you out of the stunning, unrelenting dark drama created in what amounts to one of the best sequels in cinematic history. Nolan takes the basic idea of good versus evil to depths rarely seen, and awes the audience with the heady psychology and physics of what happens when "an unstoppable force meets an immovable object."
Obviously, The Dark Knight's intensity is enhanced by the incredible performance of the late Heath Ledger. His ability in Brokeback Mountain is something else. His turn here is almost too wicked for words. Put plainly, Ledger's Joker is one of the most frightening, smart and well-played villains ever. Ever. Believe me when I say I'm not being hyperbolic - it's just unavoidable. What makes Ledger's clown so amazing is the sheer awareness and purity he brings to the role. The Joker isn't a bad guy, so much as a perfect, un-bargaining force of chaos and anarchy. And he knows it. Throughout much of the film, the Joker delivers some of the best existential answers I've ever heard. "He's like a dog chasing a car. He'll chase it forever, but wouldn't know what to do if he catches it." The Joker is that unwavering and motivated. He simply follows his instincts for mayhem and disorder. Ledger not only disappeared into the Joker (as many reports have lauded), but he also caused the Joker to disappear into unmeasurable destructive purity.
What makes The Dark Knight so compelling is the mind-wrangling dichotomy of Batman and the Joker. Despite their near super-human abilities and diametrically opposed natures, neither wants to kill the other. Batman cannot premeditatedly take a life, while the Joker won't destroy his only worthy adversary (or play thing). In essence, the two exist because of each other. Congrats to Christian Bale for stepping up his game, then, and bringing a new brooding quality to Gotham's protector that is complementary to Ledger's performance. Batman grapples with his own character, battling his obligations to the city, what it means to be a hero, and how to handle someone who is his complete antithesis, physically and mentally. Both have a rage that motivates them, but in entirely different ways.
Speaking of opposites side of the same coin, sitting smack between the two is Harvey Dent played by the very capable Aaron Eckhart. While Batman and the Joker remain on their respective sides of good and bad, Dent manifests what it's like for someone to shift, painfully, from one side to the other. As Dent gains political prominence in Gotham, Batman begins to retreat from the spotlight as the city's hero. Dent is poised to be the shining knight of Gotham - that is until the Joker systematically breaks the optimistic crime-fighter down, poisoning him with resentment, anger and the desire to act. It shouldn't come as a spoiler that Harvey Dent eventually becomes the villain Two-Face. If you look at the moral poles of the film and Dent's inner turmoil, the division of his face takes on a wonderfully complex meaning. The Dark Knight is riddled with so many intellectual wells like this, you'll be dissecting the film for hours.
The Dark Knight certainly has a dark shadow cast over it because of Ledger's death. However, I would venture to say that seeing him in one of the last roles of his career is almost a fleeting concern. The truth is, it's not Ledger in the film. The young actor delivers such a dark, forceful and complete performance that you don't discern the actor behind the make-up, but rather see only the hypnotic chaos within. There is not enough that can be said of Ledger's performance, and yet, at the same time, there are no words. But to be fair, Ledger is just one part of the film. At two-and-a-half hours, believe me when I tell you the The Dark Knight feels short. Everything from the supporting cast (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine) to the cinematography to the score come together to create a thick, poetic and realistic drama unlike any other. Well done, Christopher Nolan! Well done!