Movie Reviews, Commentary & More

The Dark Knight

I've read so much about this movie that it almost feels like I can't bring in a fresh perspective to write a few words that I can actually claim to be mine. And I usually don't do that much reading unless I've written about it. The feeling is more like the cliche: what can I say that hasn't been said before. Now I join the chorus, but still desperately trying to be singled out.

'The Dark Knight' is not a masterpiece; it has its sagging moments, cheesy dialogues and a few questionable screenplay decisions. But the sense of satisfaction it provides when walking out of the theater is wholesome. And there are not many movies that make me feel that way. I recently saw 'Wall-E' and found it preachy and sermonizing (critics hailed that & the viewers got it to IMDb top 50). I saw another summer superhero in 'Hancock'. This was supposed to be a fun popcorn flick but the execution, lack of a flowing screenplay and an abominable climax made me throw up all the popcorn. I saw 'Usual Suspects' on video (another IMDb top 50) and hated the last minute twist because I was expecting it. Let's forget that Christopher Nolan's 'Dark Knight' is currently occupying the top spot on many lists. Numbers don't matter if the movie doesn't strike a chord.

The Nolans (Christopher & Jonathan, the writers) have spent much time in developing character arcs of the main cast, which seem a rarity in the superhero genre, most of which seem to leverage the skillset of the special effects department to hold the attention of viewers. In fact, that's one of the good things about this movie - there are no super super-effects. When Batman tries to save his love interest Rachel from falling off a building, he doesn't do it with grace & style but with a sense of clumsiness associated with an emotionally frantic situation. But you don't get any points for guessing who has loads of style & crooked charisma in this production. The Joker.

The battle between the hero and the villain is interesting because the hero is willing to bend his moral standards for the good of Gotham city and the villain has no moral standards at all. The Joker doesn't have a plan, he doesn't scheme. He just wants chaos to rule. Would he derive happiness in a chaotic world? Somehow, I can't visualize a 'happy' Joker. For him, blasting a hospital is the equivalent of sensual gratification, like masturbation. He'll do it again just because the pleasure has withered off. But his 'higher' objective is to see Batman off his mask. Now this would be close to a 'happy' Joker because of the efforts involved. Heath Ledger as the Joker does a great job. Like any good actor, he conveys a lot without saying a single word. His eyes, wonderfully expressive here, just made me fall in love with his acting prowess. Ledger is lost, but the Joker lives on.

Christian Bale as Batman delivers such a finely controlled performance. In a tight-call situation, he chooses someone over his ex lover because he believes that saving that person could really take a shot at reclaiming Gotham from the goons. A magnificently morally upright decision on the part of a superhero. But when he's driven to his limits, he uses technology to spy on the whole city to locate the Joker. (The US government is in a similar crossroads). He appears to justify his acts of invasion, vigilantism as the price the public has to pay for their safety. (Again, there are many real world parallels). The moral swing is subtly but very well portrayed by Bale but the real applause here is for the screenwriters for realizing a human-like character out of a superhero.

Here is a good story told very well, but it fits a template expected of such movies. The screenplay provides enough time for the sub-plots to mature (which results in a long running time). Most of the dialogues are solid & serious. In spite of having a Joker, there aren't many laughs. He does a trick too, but not funny: he says that he'll disappear a pencil and the next moment he drives into someone's skin. I was half-tempted to laugh, involuntarily. And the way one plot leads to another, supported by good actors and good dialogues gradually builds up the vastness of the movie. The story telling is epic-like and the performances and execution are epic-like, but the movie isn't an epic.

Talking of epics, there's an epic scale in the wide shots of Gotham (Chicago actually). Mostly dark and with too many glass doors and windows, the cinematographer Wally Pfister brings out the darkness in every one. As if he isn't enough, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, the musicians, inject a sense of immediacy fused with uncertainty with their white noise score. Another top work behind the camera belongs to Christopher Nolan for his consistent direction. The tone he sets up never wavers, with most of the 152 dense minutes gripping the audience. Andrew Sarris said that he's put to rest his doubts about Nolan's talent. If Sarris himself doesn't question, who am I?

Let me get back to the Joker. What's really scary about him is his ability to turn a do-gooder into do-badder. Someone who is praised as the white kinght is forced to become a dark.... well, let me say a bad man. And the movie captures his moral transformation with such power that it left me wondering if Batman himself is immune as his sense of morality is already lopsided. The movie offers a lot of moments to ponder & discuss not to mention the artistic & technical feats which are second to none. I solidly recommend this, if you love serious movies.

A friend remarked that this isn't worth being at the No.1 in the list of top 250 movies in IMDb. All I can say is that everybody has their own list.

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4 Responses to “The Dark Knight”

  1. # Blogger ohmsdeeps

    Thanks for the gripping review.
    I am usually not a big fan of super hero movies. I was pretty impressed with the making of Spider Man which I see now as a movie made for teens.
    But this movie may not be an epic as you said, but it has a unique style and racy screenplay and
    probably the best ever super hero movie of all time.
    Like you said, Heathe ledger just lived in that Joker character.
    I read that he was so involved in that character and so at some point he had to consult a psychiatrist to get out of that.
    I could say that he in fact surpassed the performances of big time actors Nicholson and Tomy Lee in the joker role.
    I still remember the way he says to the Batman "You complete me". It was very funny and scary as well.  

  2. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    One of the aspects that I didn't make enough space for in the piece is how strong the supporting cast is. Of course, Ledger steals the show, but almost every other name actor delivers when asked for, especially Aaron Eckhart as the D.A and Gary Oldman and the commissioner. Not to mention the pleasure of seeing Michael Caine & Morgan Freeman.  

  3. # Anonymous karthik

    One small thing, batman actually tries to save rachel, but the joker actually messes batman's head by giving dent's address as rachel's(atleast that's what i thought and interpreted as even superheroes tend to be human)

    maybe i need to watch it once more.  

  4. # Blogger Prasad Venkataramana

    I think you're right - I read somewhere that Joker misleads him. I don't exactly remember what he says though.  

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