The Dark Knight (2008) *****
Directed by Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight may very well be on its way to becoming the second biggest blockbuster in movie history just short of Titanic. It even has a chance of surpassing Titanic’s all-time box office achievement, but unless its weekly declines are astonishingly slow, its chance to be number one is slim. That being said, for me, seeing The Dark Knight was such an awesome experience that I’m reminded of Titanic from ten years ago—a film that I consider to be one of the three best movies ever made, and it still stands alone as the most entertaining film I’ve ever seen. The Dark Knight isn’t in the same league as Titanic in any way except for the thrills that it delivers. Never have I seen a film in my adult life that was so almost exhaustively riveting. I’m not sure if I’ve used the word riveting anywhere else in my reviews, but if I did, then I regret it. Riveting feels like it was destined to be withheld so that it can deservedly be ascribed to Christopher Nolan’s epic superhero masterpiece. The Dark Knight is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen, and more than any other film ever, even Titanic, I believe that The Dark Knight lives up to its near mythic hype.
You might read that paragraph and think me a huge Batman geek. Quite the opposite is true. I’ve never seen Batman Begins, and I’ve only seen one other Batman movie in the theaters—the one with Jim Carrey, and I saw it only because someone I was friends with wanted to see it. I think Val Kilmer was in that one. I’m sure I’ve seen the 80’s version with Jack Nicholson as the Joker, but I don’t remember much about it. So, I really couldn’t care less that The Dark Knight was about to open. Granted, I was interested in the film because it was one of Heath Ledger’s last performances, and the buzz about Ledger as the Joker was quite impressive. So, I probably was thinking I’d eventually check it out, most likely on DVD.
But then the reviews started naming The Dark Knight as one of the year’s best films. Box office record after box office record were decimated, and the feedback surrounding Ledger as the Joker was way beyond anything I anticipated. Still, though, it took my favorite podcast, Filmspotting, doing a spoiler edition of The Dark Knight to get me to finally go out and see it. I need my Filmspotting, and I couldn’t go a whole week without listening.
Within the first fifteen minutes, I felt as if something invisible grabbed me hard by the throat and never did its grip release until the final credits. Seriously, I know that I can exaggerate, but I’ve never had the experience before of being so completely, well, RIVETED! The film’s tone is brutal, and its violence is surprisingly vicious for a PG-13 movie. There’s one scene involving a pencil that still has me creeped out, and yet, nothing graphic was shown. Another scene involves the Joker slicing the corners of the mouth of a character, and while the actual act wasn’t shown on screen, I felt unbelievably uncomfortable because the film let me fill in the blanks in my head. I assure you that my mental images are worse than anything they could have shown even if the film had been rated R.
From the very beginning, The Dark Knight pushed my comfort level to its very limit. I have read that some people have found the film’s tone to be sadistic and unpleasantly cruel. While I disagree, I certainly understand where those people are coming from. For me, I was unsettled just enough to allow me to recall the film as a whole with pleasure and satisfaction. You may want to keep in mind that for some, The Dark Knight has the potential to be a depressing cinematic experience. For most, though, it’s a nightmare of a good time!
Interestingly enough, one of the things I was thinking during the 150 minute plus running time was that Christopher Nolan didn’t make this movie for someone like me. I’m not really a popcorn movie watcher. I don’t want to go to the movies to be passive. Instead, I want a film to engage me and hopefully challenge me as well. Things blowing up, graphic bloodshed and copious amounts of exposed flesh aren’t enough to win me over. Also, I’m not at all a Batman fan, or for that matter, a superhero movie fan.
Director Christopher Nolan, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan, made The Dark Knight to please the film’s established fan base. There was a point in the movie where I would have been totally fine if the film ended. Actually, I really expected it to end just then, but instead there was another hour to go, which included surprise after surprise, climax after climax. Characters we thought were dead weren’t, and other characters we thought were good have a change of heart. Misdirection for misdirection’s sake can be very frustrating, but each and every time I was hit with a plot twist, the film delivered by allowing each narrative puzzle piece to serve its one unifying element regarding the battle of good versus evil.
The very end of the film wasn’t too surprising considering all of the twists that preceded it. Therefore, I actually found The Dark Knight’s conclusion to be its weakest aspect, though it was definitely satisfying. What really merits The Dark Knight its five star review are Nolan's direction, especially of the action sequences, and its superb cast which universally brought their A-game! Christian Bale does a fine job in an almost thankless role as Batman by way of Dean Martin, the straight man. Do I even need to talk about Heath Ledger? All I’ll say is that when they announce his name at the Oscars as the winner of Best Supporting Actor next February, I will definitely be applauding, even if I’m watching it by myself. What would really make my day Oscar-wise would be to have Aaron Eckhart also nominated as Best Supporting Actor. Ledger deserves to win, but Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent deserves serious recognition, and I think an Oscar nomination would do the trick nicely.
The Dark Knight isn’t a perfect film. The make-up job regarding a burned character is almost laugh out loud funny. An outside make-up artist should have been allowed in so that he or she could scream the words, “YOU’VE GONE WAY TOO FAR AND NOW IT LOOKS STUPID!” At times during the final few action scenes, I was relying a bit too much on sound effects to tell me that there’s fighting going on. A mixture of frenetic camera switches and dark lighting made some fights impossible to follow in detail. That being said, a film trying this hard to entertain absolutely earns the right to have its flaws forgiven.
Not since Titanic have I seen a movie so worth the money it costs to buy a ticket. I would have been satisfied with a running time of 90 minutes, but Nolan wasn’t thinking about me. He was thinking about those college kids dressed up like Batman at on the morning of its premier. He wanted to make them proud, and judging by the fact that The Dark Knight is now the number one rated movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database, he succeeded and then some. To be honest, I almost feel like an outsider privileged to go along on an amazing ride which was created specifically to make die-hards happy!