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The Dark Knight (12A)

Nicola Mostyn on Ledger's loveable psychopath

Published on July 30th 2008.

The Dark Knight (12A)

Ever since Christopher Nolan got his mitts on the Caped Crusader with the brooding Batman Begins back in 2005, anticipation for the next instalment has been high. For all that a certain generation’s memories of Batman were indelibly imprinted with TV’s Adam West, he of the unflattering grey tights and discernible paunch, Batman has always gone down much better when he’s dark.

It’s not that The Dark Knight is not a good film. It’s brilliant. Far from a hyper-coloured comic book caper, this is a dark, intelligent thriller which just happens to be about a super hero. But it’s also a bit of an epic.

Darker still, Heath Ledger, brought in to play the role of The Joker, died post-filming from an accidental overdose. With rumours abounding about a posthumous Oscar for Ledger, the hype for the movie has gone through the roof. Which is a good thing, actually, because audiences are going to need that enthusiasm and more.

It’s not that The Dark Knight is not a good film. It’s brilliant. Far from a hyper-coloured comic book caper, this is a dark, intelligent thriller which just happens to be about a super hero. But it’s also a bit of an epic.

As the film opens we are straight into the action: a group of clown-masked men are robbing a bank, knocking one another off one by one like a set of dominoes until, eventually, we’re left with old clown-face himself.

The Joker, we learn, is a new brand of bad guy and as Gotham’s motley crew of repeat offenders are usurped and outmatched by this extra-ordinary, indecent criminal, it’s up to Batman and new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart looking like a young Robert Redford) to come together and capture him.

There is a wonderful theme of ‘doubles’ running through this film. DA Dent is dating Batman’s childhood friend and erstwhile squeeze Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes replaced here with the wonderful, understated Maggie Gyllenhaal). As the acceptable face of crime fighting, Dent is the white knight to Batman’s black avenger.

Meanwhile, the honourable, plucky Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is contrasted with Gotham’s slick mayor (Nestor Carbonell).

And The Joker, of course, is the new, extreme sort of villain replacing the old guard, a super-bad guy, the film suggests, brought about by the very existence of Batman.

Heath Ledger is, quite simply, brilliant in the role of The Joker. A world away from the mugging extravagance of Jack Nicholson’s effort, Ledger is easily the most watchable and charismatic person in the movie. He plays The Joker as chaotic, unfathomable – not in a broad comic book style but in a mad man on the bus who might stab you for no good reason sort of way. He’s a jittery, painted-faced psychopath. And he gets all the funny lines. It’s impossible not to love him.

In this way he rather outshines Christian Bale’s Batman/Bruce Wayne who spends much of the film having an existential crisis. While The Joker bumps people off like he’s popping bubble wrap, Batman is a tortured soul. What kind of hero does Gotham deserve? If Dent is the acceptable face of law enforcement, what does that make him? Can he get a dog-repellent Bat Suit? Stuff like that.

Though quite muted in colour, this is a visually stunning film. Gotham glitters, the stunts are slickly choreographed, and there are some fantastic gadgets, with Morgan Freeman playing M to Batman’s Bond as technological wizard Lucius Fox.

Freeman, like the rest of this extremely strong cast, is excellent. The plot is clever, complex and multi-layered. This is a clever, even subtle, thriller, exactly what you’d expect from Nolan, and what die-hard comic book fans deserve. On the downside it’s so complex it’s occasionally confusing, and, well, it does go on a bit.

You can tell Nolan loves his subject matter: he’s approached it with all the dedication and detail of a PHD student. At one point the whole thing comes together, tying up all the loose ends, emphasising the doubles theme and, with the introduction of a new super-villain, setting the film up nicely for a sequel...and then it goes on for about another, equally dense, half an hour.

In fact, watching The Dark Knight was more like watching two films in one. Two very good films, but it was just a little exhausting. If Nolan signs up to complete a trilogy – and if box office figures are this good, how can he not? – I hope it’s not for a while. My head needs a long rest before it can handle more Batman adventures. But then, it will take Nolan that long to find a bad guy to match up to Ledger’s legacy.


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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Miss Lou xxJuly 30th 2008.

This film is amazing. I traditionally hate films like this as they are too dark and too violent. And there was quite a fuss in the cinma lobby as I was in 'discussions' with my fella over the fact that I was hoping to watch Mamma Mia. Now I am so glad that he (as per usual) won. I was enamoured by the whole film. After it had finished I couldnt speak for about 5 mins (which is a VERY long time for me) and I haven't been able to stop thinking about the joker since I watched it 5 days ago. I've been telling all the girls in the office to make their other halves day and suggest to go watch it.

Thoroughbred MancJuly 30th 2008.

Eh? Wasn't there a review on The Dark Knight on here yesterday by another ManCon reviewer? Regardless, I've just been to see it for a third time (twice on IMAX - the hands-down best format on which to view it): THAT'S how good it is. Rarely do I go back and watch a movie, but with so much going on it'd have been rude not to. It blows other super hero movies out of the water with its intelligent storyline, subtle acting delivered by a magnificent ensemble cast, sublime cinematography (the Joker with his head stuck out of the police car window must surely be one of the greatest movie moments of all time) and a sweeping score courtesy of Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Mission Impossible) that adds layers to the mounting tension. I just wish people would stop Katie (Holmes) bashing (the actress who played Rachel Dawes, in the previous movie). Gyllenhaal's performance is perhaps the weakest with her unnecessary and ceaseless hip-wiggling and dour presence. But even that's not enough to make a dint in this movie event. A must see, even if you don't ordinarily 'do' fantasy/comic strip movies.

Doh.July 30th 2008.

I think I'm the only person I know who didn't like it. It was drawn out. Not dark enough. At what point it was complex is beyond me. I'm really stumped on this one. How was that complex?

Kevin @ M4July 30th 2008.

O M actual G! Saw it at the I-Max in Glasgow (yes they do have one, not just a refracting glass which you hold in front of your head)! Got to see it at an I-Max - AMAZING!

mikeJuly 30th 2008.

What a great film. And great to see a review without loads of pretentious wanky 9/11 references like them mugs off newsnight review

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