Director: Christopher Nolan
Verdict: Really, really solid
So, the 4th best film on IMDb is it? Hmm, we’ll see. Better than Fight Club and The Empire Strikes Back hmm? Strangely enough if you ask most people they won’t list this as their favourite Christopher Nolan film I think. Or at least most Nolan fans, or film fans, just people who know about Nolan as a director. For Nolan’s most famous movie, it’s probably the one that’s the least… I don’t know, Nolany..? Nolanesque..? In the style of soon-to-be-sir-if-we-still-made-sirs Christopher Nolan?
In this grim crime drama that transplants the idological battle of Batman: The Killing Joke for a modern age. The Joker, instead of a conflicted, tragic villain that fit distincly into the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate mallaise that Alan Moore actively contributed to with works like Watchmen, is now a Nitzien, overbearing force of evil and terrorism to match post 9/11 anxieties. In Batman, he finds an opponent to match his wit, skill, and sheer craziness. This isn’t the only ideological battle represented in The Dark Knight as Batman and several other characters question whether a city as corrupt as Gotham needs the threat of Batman or an inspiration to keep them in order, the inspiration coming in the form of ‘white knight’ Harvey Dent.
These anxities are never really settled upon to the detriment of the film, because the film thinks it provides an answer but is conflicted within itself. This lack of thematic resolution would be fine if the film itself was playing towards that. In it’s absence, the film becomes more about the characters or Batman and the Joker themselves. In a more realistic world like the one Nolan creates, these characters need to be crafted from scratch and it then becomes a character study of the two of them.
I am a big fan of Christopher Nolan. In an age when big, blockbuster entertainment is playing increasingly to the dumb strain in viewers, Nolan flies the Union Jack and makes films big budget fair that treats it’s general cinema going audience as if they have a brain in their heads, with works like Inception, and proves that audiences are much more intelligent than studios give them credit for. When it comes to British Cinema Nolan shows you what can be done. My favourite film of his may be The Prestige because it marries perfectly his duel strain of intelligent narrative constructions and emotion story arcs. The Dark Knight is maybe not quite as impressive as The Prestige but it actually has a suprising amount of both, which I only really noticed this time of watching, on my 3rd viewing of this film. There were moments that I felt really emotionally engaged in the story in a way I didn’t really either other time I watched it. On previous watches I found it a very cynical, workman like film. It was something Nolan made as a career choice more than an artistic peice which I still think might be true but doesn’t come out so much to the detreiment of the film. I also thought that in this world they worked so hard to make the characters of Batman and The Joker seem really realistic and grounded that they forgot about all the other characters. Which I still think, but again, it didn’t come through quite so much.
There are certain aspects of The Dark Knight that have passed into the public concioussness to the extent that I almost feel like I don’t have to talk about them because it just goes without saying. However, it’s a review, I have to otherwise I’m missing the point of a review, so; Heath Ledger, (Brokeback Mountain, 10 Things I Hate About You) is really, really incredible. He should have won his Oscar, I don’t know if he would have done if he hadn’t died but my god he deserved it. Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad constantly describes himself as this kind of force of nature, ‘a state of mind’, but he’s so not. Heath Ledger, is. He might have become a true acting legend if he’d stayed alive. Wally Pfister’s, (Moneyball, Inception), cinematography is also fantastic; bot him and composers James Newon Howard (Michael Clayton, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and Hanz Zimmer, (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Lion King) craft that typical Nolanesque, (not this again), sense of surging forward, the film constantly driving forward, and like it’s envoy of Dent carrying cars, stops for no one.
I love that it’s a proper movie. The way to make a good comic book movie, and those strugging to resurrect video game movies from what Uwe Boll, (House of the Dead, BloodRayne, Far Cry), has done should also apply this, is to just make a proper movie. This is why this works, and why the MCU movies work, it’s because the character motivations are plotted out properly. It’s why the Batman stuff is the best stuff in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, because we understand exactly his character, who he is, and where he’s at. It’s why I think despite these sniffy reviews, if you detatch yourself from the game, the upcoming Assassin’s Creed might actually be fun, because it’s made by a proper filmmaker.
In terms of the supporting performances, they’re all really really functional, in a good way. Christian Bale is perfectly fine, even if he sometimes verges a bit too far into his iconic Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, but maybe that’s intentional. Gary Oldman, (Léon: The Professional, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), one of my favourite actors working, plays Gordon exactly as one should, never takes centre stage but is exactly as he is meant to be, and is played note perfect. Morgan Freeman, (The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en) just does that Morgan Freeman thing of having a wonderful voice and being slightly better than you. Aaron Eckhart, (Thank You for Smoking, Olympus Has Fallen, Frasier) is actually much, much better in the second half of the film, when his character takes on new dimentions, quite literally.
The Dark Knight is more a crime drama than a superhero films. More Peckinpah, (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), than Burton, (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman). Although it’s not perfect there is very little that’s actively bad about it, and a proud addition to both the linneage of comic book films and the filmography of the Nolan borthers, Chris and his borther Jonathan, (Memento, Westworld, Person of Interest), who co-wrote it. I just wish they’re been there when they were making Watchmen.