Vantage point

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review of The Dark Knight

I have never seen a movie being as sold out in this country in my two years here, as The Dark Knight. A few days before release, all the friday shows were booked. And we only managed to find tickets for 12:40 am on Saturday, and had to stand in line for good seats. Thankfully, it was worth it.

Nolan had done a tremendous job of de-kitsching the Batman franchise in Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight just continues where the first movie left off, both literally and figuratively. By now, everyone and his uncle must have said this - the movie squarely belongs to the late Heath Ledger. The least of his accomplishments in the movie is that he is unrecognizable. I doubt if even his mother would have recognized him as The Joker unless told in advance that it was him. What makes his performance outstanding is the unmitigated evil he portrays. Pure, dark, unabashed, unapologetic, and even arrogant evil. Ledger's Joker is not interested in money, as he amply demonstrates while setting fire to a mountain of cash, mouthing the destined-to-be-memorable line - This city deserves a better class of criminal and I'm gonna give it to them.

Another memorable line from the movie comes from Albert (Michael Caine) who says - Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn. Ledger's triumph lies in making the Joker conform completely to this description. The Joker is scary. Not the "oooh, don't turn the lights off, the Joker will come get me" scary, but a much scarier kind of scary. Although you know that this is after all a superhero movie, and the good guy will win in the end, he makes you suspend your rationality long enough to think that there's no way the Batman can beat this evil genius. I don't know what the rules for posthumous Oscars are, but he is sure to get it. As tragic as the fact is that Ledger won't be around to bask in the glory of his greatest role, even more tragic is the fact that if he does win the Oscar, there will always be an asterix next to it saying "posthumous", thereby causing some cynics to speculate that it might have been a sympathy award.

The rest of the cast, although spectacularly overshadowed by Ledger, still does very well. Christian Bale continues his good work, though frankly, his role in this movie was more of a supportive character. It is good to see that the one blemish from the first movie - Katie Holmes, is no longer there, and Maggie Gyllenhall slips into Rachel Dawes' skin quite comfortably. Gary Oldman was good too.

But the other two top class performances are by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, quite understandably backed by some excellent dialogues. Another line from the movie that tickled me came when one of the guys working for Wayne Enterprises figures out that Bruce is Batman, and demands money from Lucius Fox (Freeman) for keeping his mouth shut. Fox, with a very amused look on his face says -

Let me see if I get this straight. You are accusing your client, who is one of the most wealthy and powerful men in the world, of being a rogue vigilante who runs around at night beating mobsters to a bloody pulp with his bare hands…and your intention is to try to blackmail this person? [pauses] Good luck.

And as my frequent quoting from the movie must have made it obvious, I think the dialogues in the movie are one of its greatest strengths.

The movie does have some minor flaws though. For one, it is too long. I have no problems with a movie being long if the story justifies it, but the whole Hong Kong sequence was completely unnecessary and could have been edited out.

Another complaint I have with the movie is the portrayal of Harvey Dent. Aaron Eckhart is one of my favorite actors, but Dent left me feeling disappointed. Especially because I have read The Long Halloween, the graphic novel from which the movie is loosely inspired. In that book, Dent is shown as always having a streak of vigilante-ism in him, and his transformation into Two Face is understandable. In the movie, that transformation seems very stilted and sudden. And the blame lies, not with Eckhart, but with Nolan and the writers for not fleshing his character out as well as they should have.

But these are minor irritants. Overall, the movie is superb, and worth watching more than once.