The Dark Knight
For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.


Golden Mug

2008 GOLDEN MUG WINNER:

Best Director (Christopher Nolan)
Best Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger)
Best Film Editing (Lee Smith)

2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:

Best Cinematography (Wally Pfister)
Best Score (James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer)
Best Art Direction (Nathan Crowley (Art Direction), Peter Lando (Set Decoration))
Best Costume Design (Lindy Hemming)
Best Visual Effects (Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin)
Best Sound (Richard King, Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick)


Theatrical Release Date: 07/18/2008
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

It’s an odd thing when buzz actually comes out to be true. With this summer’s “The Dark Knight”, all the scuttlebutt has been about Heath Ledger and his performance as the Joker. Many are predicting an Oscar nomination (which isn’t the first time it would have happened posthumously). Obviously the first reaction is to think that everyone is saying that because of the sad fact of Ledger’s death. However, after finally seeing this much anticipated sequel to director/co-writer Christopher Nolan’s revitalization of the franchise with “Batman Begins”, I can unequivocally say that Ledger’s performance is perhaps the most fearless and mesmerizing of the year so far.

His take on the role is so mind-numbingly psychotic that I didn’t stop to lament his passing at any point between his first moments on screen up until the movie had ended. I know this may sound like blasphemy amongst the Tim Burton faithful but he makes Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker in “Batman” look like a Disney mobster. That he also performs the greatest magic act in cinema since the apparent disappearance of Pauly Shore from the public limelight is just icing on the cake.

His performance makes it even more impressive that there really aren’t too many gory elements to the film (until the final acts but that would be spoiling things for most people) and yet the implied brutality, especially in regards to the Joker, comes through like a hot knife through butter. The wild-eyed ferocity Ledger places in even the most subtle of lines, which at times almost sent shivers up my spine, will keep audiences guessing at what lines the Joker won’t cross … if there are any. Only Javier Bardem’s creepy sadist in “No Country for Old Men” comes close to touching this performance in regards to the past few years.

Christian Bale’s performance is once again good, but there’s not a lot for him to do here and it doesn’t come close to some of his more notable roles such as “The Machinist”. That isn’t his fault, however, as the film really is about Batman reacting to the Joker and the insane, depraved acts he commits throughout the story. Probably the biggest change for Batman this time around, aside from not having a mansion to call home (since it was destroyed in “Batman Begins”) was his costume. Bale wanted more flexibility and mobility so he didn’t feel quite so claustrophobic and the result was a leaner, more agile fighting machine which fits in well with the fighting style in this revamp of the franchise. It did lessen the imposing nature of Batman to some degree but opened up more avenues for the caped crusader to kick the snot of out people.

Gary Oldman is back again and does a good job, of course. But like Bale, he isn’t given too many scenes to flex his considerable acting muscles. Though that really seems to be Oldman’s style – not standing out and just melting into a role so well that you forget that it’s an actor underneath the make-up and costuming. That’s why he’s so well regarded as an actor. He understands that the story comes first, it’s not about getting the close-ups and being a big star.

The big surprise for me was Aaron Eckhart and his performance as Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent. At first, it seemed like a retread of his role as the spokesman for big tobacco in “Thank You for Smoking” (which would have made Katie Holmes’ inclusion even more amusing considering their tryst in that film). Towards the end of the film, Eckhart’s character undergoes one of the most drastic changes I’ve seen on-screen in quite a while and his ability to create such a dynamically different persona is remarkable.

The make-up/CGI process that the crew laid on Eckhart for his latter scenes in the film should get an award nomination as well because it’s easily one of the most terrifying and yet fascinating images you’ll see this year. Combined with the fantastic job the make-up department did on Ledger to complete his transformation into the Joker, this is definitely one department that should be receiving pretty statues come awards season if nothing else pops up in the film world and manages to outdo their work.

The weak link in the chain for me was Maggie Gyllenhaal, who assumed the role played by Katie Holmes in “Batman Begins” once she was no longer attached to this film. Now, Gyllenhaal’s a very good actress and I thought her chemistry with Bale was better than Holmes’. However, there was a certain righteous indignation that Holmes brought to the role (as she does to most of her roles) that worked as a counterpoint to Bale’s need to bring justice to Gotham at almost any cost. Gyllenhaal does fine here but it was a new direction for the character that I didn’t think was needed.

Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are back as well. Their characters are the spiritual advisers for Bruce Wayne if you were looking at this from a psychological standpoint and remind me of the film, “Kontroll“. If one were so inclined, you could make the argument that the entire film (and especially Freeman and Caine’s characters) is a metaphor for the struggle inside the human mind. Though make no mistake, the film is about dynamism and action so don’t think that all this poetic waxing-on means you’re not getting what you want out of a Batman film.

And when it comes to action, “The Dark Knight” aimed to deliver on an unprecedented scale by specifically shooting six key scenes in the IMAX format; Nolan and team weren’t content to just do things the way it’s always been done. I was able to see it in the IMAX format and will say it worked for the most part. However, I only really noticed the true magic of that medium in two or three scenes, where a sense of vertigo was delivered to my senses quite effectively. I think that given a high-quality theater with good projection and sound equipment, you’ll be just as satisfied with the result as if you paid the extra $76.93 a ticket to see it on an IMAX screen.

That isn’t to say the action itself isn’t well done. Nolan and his team did a marvelous job of doing as many things practically as possible rather than relying on a team of 24 year-olds still living in their Moms’ basements to flesh out a key sequence and make things “amazing”. There are huge explosions and stunts to behold and all of them deliver the goods, making the need to see this in a real theater, as opposed to your nice, new 42″ LCD all the greater. Finally this summer, (with the exception of “Hellboy II” which masterfully created an alternate reality for audiences), here is a film that actually used its budget to create a high-octane experience worthy of your hard-earned cash (and yes, I’m most notably referring to the huge waste of cash on special effects for “Hancock“).

One key word of advice before you sit and enjoy the film is to use one of the conveniently located restrooms inside the theater before the trailers get going. This film is long (two and a half hours … which you will feel) – and there really aren’t too many opportunities to get up and leave. Even still, I was engrossed with the plot and events that unfold and there are so many things going on here that you could have split the film into 2 parts. Thankfully, Nolan and team decided to just pack it all into this one presentation and I’m also happy that there isn’t some ridiculous cliffhanger at the end … closure will come … though an avenue for deeper exploration of the character and this world is offered which will keep fans wanting more and hopefully Nolan and this core group will be able to continue the franchise because it’s one of the few that’s worth the effort.

There’s a lot to digest in this film and it’s not just about how amazing Ledger’s performance was (It’s perhaps the best performance by an actor in any film so far this year). I might have liked to have seen a few different choices for other characters, see Bruce Wayne/Batman given a little more development instead of relinquishing the entire soul of the film to the Joker and to somehow bring the running time down a notch to help out my bladder so I’ll refrain from giving out the highest possible score and instead deliver “The Dark Knight” a 4.5 out of 5. It’s one of the few films so far this year that make a trip to the movie theater necessary to fully enjoy it and fans of the direction Nolan has taken with this beloved character will find their expectations met and possibly exceeded.