I wasn't sure if I would see The Dark Knight, primarily because of Heath Ledger's death and all of the hype surrounding movies that are released after the death of a key character. "Final Performances" are usually overrated as if saying anything else would trample on the deceased thespian's grave. However, the acclaim and accolades of this movie, particularly Ledger's performance, are well deserved.
Christopher Nolan's recent iteration of Batman is probably the darkest screen rendering of the comic book series, far more sullen than Tim Burton's version. Here, we see an uncompromising, rugged, and solid film that substantially exceeds the expectations of a comic book movie. There is no simple good-vs-evil formula here -- no simple story of a city fraught in crime waiting for their local superhero to save the day -- no predictable hero-vs-villian drama. Yes, there is a good deal of action and good special effects, but this movie escapes the archetype of a comic-book based film.
The director shows us a deeper side of the caped crusader and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), showing him as a brooding, tortured, and conflicted soul. This time around, he's accused of being a vigilante by the public and law enforcement, and frustrated that his self-sacrificing efforts go unappreciated. Adding to his sorrows, the object of his affection, Rachel Dawes (the butter-faced Maggie Gyllenhaal), seems to have turned her attentions towards DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who energetically woos her away from Wayne. This is no typical love triangle as the fates of these three people are intertwined in ways apart from the romantic realm.
The Dark Knight takes Batman and the Joker (Ledger) enmity dynamic to a dour, more complex plane. The battle between the two isn't just your average catch the criminal story line. Oh no, here we have the film's malefactor out to taunt, humiliate, and eventually lure our champion into his domain -- chaos. Sadistic and twisted from an obviously devastating childhood, this Joker doesn't just want to commit crimes for riches and notoriety, laughing all the way from the bank he just robbed. He wants to spread pandemonium and bedlam, for no reason other than the hell of it. This is not your daddy's Joker -- forget Caesar Romero's prankster antics and Jack Nicholson's campy turn as the Clown Prince of Crime. Oh no! With his cakey, moldy make-up, scarred rouged smile, and disheveled hair, Ledger's Joker is creepy, sick, and most odious. There is no logic in his reason, yet his genius is extraordinary. Nolan's model of the Joker is riveting and resonating and we see a formidable pairing of two equally matched foes who not only fight each other, but find something within themselves.
Returning from the prequel is Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, a talented scientist who (supposedly unwittingly) designs the tools that his employer uses to moonlight as a crime fighter. Michael Caine (who previously worked with Nolan and Bale in The Prestige) also reprises his role as the trusty butler, Alfred, who make a critical move to protect his employer. Gary Oldman does the same good work as Jim Gordon, and Eckhart is rather charming in his role as Harvey Dent and commands a proper screen presence as the ill-fated public official. Gyllenhaal, while not as cute or sweet as Katie Holmes, clearly gives a better rendering as Rachel than the bland performance given by Mrs. Cruise in the last movie. She definitely holds her own here, and despite concerns about the change of actresses, there was no detriment to the role with the swapping of the ingenues.
I have to say that the talk of Oscars, especially for Ledger, are justified. Ledger was a good actor, evidenced in Brokeback Mountain, and his performance here was even better. A little golden statuette for Ledger, or any category for this film would be more than appropriate. This would not be a pity nod or award, but a veritable recognition of a worthy film.
Czarina's First Date Rating: I rate this movie B; which means if I saw it on a first date I would*:
* Czarina does not give blow jobs on the first date... (often).
Czarina's Captious Compliment or Caustic Comment: Magnificent film of a Dark and stormy Knight.
The Dark Czarina
Order from Amazon
Internet Movie Database Listing