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  The Dark Knight

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas, Chuck Rovan, Christopher Nolan

Written by: Christopher & Jonathan Nolan (screenplay & story), David S. Goyer (story)

Distributor: Warner Bros.


     Thanks to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I now believe that cinematic perfection may one day be attained. I had previously long ruled out this notion; after all, for a movie to be “perfect,” then wouldn’t it need to tackle every genre, every tone, and every theme imaginable? Wouldn’t it have to defy all the common rules of filmmaking and of genre-standards to even begin to approach an entity of such simultaneous broadness of content and conciseness of form? Based on the great films I had previously watched, I didn’t foresee my definition of perfection ever being realized by a filmmaker, no matter what innovations the art of cinema was to be provided in the future. But then I settled in to watch the Caped Crusader battle the Make-Up Man on Friday morning and it all clicked.

     The Dark Knight is certainly not a perfect movie itself, but it understands the form that one would embody. Never before has a motion picture covered so much territory in just over two-and-a-half hours; the fact that it is based off of a comic-book makes the accomplishment even more remarkable. The Dark Knight is full of fantasy and of realism, of ethical-dilemmas and of moral-absolutes, of comic-book roots and of terrifying realism, of brilliant character-acting and of fearless transformations – the list goes on and on. In one fell swoop, co-writer/director Christopher Nolan and his talented cast and crew have fashioned the most versatile motion picture that audiences have ever experienced.

     And yet the movie nonetheless has its problems, many of them stemming from the aforementioned balancing of themes and tones. There’s a central paradox that prevents Nolan and company from ever reaching the realm of perfection: the fact that comic-book storytelling and cinematic realism are naturally counterintuitive. The Herculean story that Nolan chooses to tell is characterized by both of these styles—the filmmaker adheres to convention in order to achieve the sense of triumph expected of his material but at the same time undoubtedly imbues in it a grittily actualized sense of place and time—and it is impossible for these to fully coexist. Yes, Nolan does his darndest to make sure their coexistence is maximized—he does a far better job than I could’ve ever imagined, a masterful one that few (if any) other filmmakers would ever be able to achieve—but the ensuing paradigm still isn’t entirely sound.

     Then again, perhaps the aforementioned flaw exists only in my imagination as a gut reaction to the fact that I have never seen a movie quite like The Dark Knight, certainly not one in the form of a big-budget summer-blockbuster. Perhaps the film is supposed to be as strangely maddening as it actually is and my still somewhat uneasy response after two viewings is entirely appropriate. (Regardless, do not let this characterization of my opinion distract you from the fact that I do think the movie is a masterpiece.) It is very likely that I will need to see The Dark Knight another two times before I fully understand it. One thing is for sure, however: never before have I contemplated such ideas in my review of a comic-book-adapted picture, which clearly signals that the movie is the best representation of its genre. (On the other hand, does The Dark Knight even qualify as a comic-book adaptation? Outside of its source material and classic showcase of good-versus-evil, there’s nothing to suggest it does in terms of content.)

     I have dreaded composing this review for two days now. Just dreaded it. This is because I realize that, in most ways, reviewing the movie represents a fruitful task. I’ve already written a page and haven’t even talked about the specifics of the story yet. Should I even try? If I were to dissect the plot bit by bit, then I would spend thousands of words reaching a dozen half-assed conclusions. If I were to continue to limit myself to the above generalizations, then I wouldn’t do my affection for the film justice. All I know is that both times I watched The Dark Knight over the past weekend, I felt something intrinsic awaken within me. It was new, it was fresh, it was scary, and it was exciting. And the only way I can even begin to make sense of why I liked the picture so much is to digress to bullet-points signaling out the three concrete aspects of the picture that I was most riveted by. These of course represent generalizations in and of themselves, but they offer the most accurate representation of my impressions that I know how to express.

  • The acting – In any other comic-book adaptation, it would seem strange that the most commendable component of the equation is the cast. Much as the late Heath Ledger has been given the media-spotlight for his work as the Joker, there is truly not a weak-link to be found in The Dark Knight’s ensemble. Ledger is, of course, phenomenal, truly exploring his character’s chaos and yet leaving so much of his existence up to the viewer’s dark imagination. Nearly as good is Aaron Eckhart, whose third-act transformation (you all know who to by now) is genuinely incredible, and he plays both sides of the coin with stellar versatility. On the clearer-cut side of things: Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is rife with moral-complexities, much thanks to the actor’s continued nuanced approach; Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel Dawes is far more intriguing and ultimately heartbreaking than Katie Holmes’ take on the character ever was; and Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius continue to impress as they provoke thought while lurking in the background.

  • The rich definition of setting and its socio-political parallels – Yes, Gotham City has been committed to celluloid many times before—even by Nolan in Batman Begins—but we’ve never quite seen it like this. Nolan provides the realm his movie inhabits the distinct feel of today’s America. Instead of literally depicting fears of Islamist terrorism or economic woes, however, he subliminally expresses these through the reactions of Gotham’s citizens and representatives to the Joker’s unstoppable wrath. The movie references the Bush Administration, the Patriot Act (especially in one eerie surveillance scene during the final act), and the current international climate more times than can be counted on two hands. And its understanding of history is equally striking; a reference made to Julius Caesar that Bruce, Bruce’s date, Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, and Rachel discuss over dinner is only the tip of the iceberg. Nolan himself refuses to make objective judgments about such issues, and rightfully so. He merely wants to provide The Dark Knight a terrifying sense of authenticity; the fact that Gotham feels so real only makes the work of the Joker more harrowing and the counter-efforts of Batman more palpable.

  • The movie’s technical mastery – As obligatory as this feature may seem in a contemporary mega-blockbuster, The Dark Knight wouldn’t be the same without its nimble assembly or its striking sense of visual aesthetics. Despite the movie’s 150+-minute running length, it flies by like a rocket. This is much in part due to its wealth of material, but without such skillful direction on the part of Nolan or mathematical editing on the part of Lee Smith, the movie would not be as consistently engrossing nor as thought-provoking in its presentation. And, man, are the visuals great. Rarely does a film as dark looking as this one prove so aesthetically immersive. When coupled with the fantastic acting maintained throughout the action sequences, the CGI-work done to bring said action sequences alive ranks among the best I’ve ever seen.

     Much as I have tried to keep my praise of The Dark Knight at reasonable levels—too many glib comments concerning how revolutionary the picture is ultimately undermines the sublime nature of the experience itself—I have had a tough time containing myself. And as much as I have tried to express my overall opinion of the film, I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface. This is that kind of movie. Sure, I have seen many more accomplished pieces of cinema in my life, but I can’t remember ever experiencing (or at least attempting to review) one as vast and as broad and as immediately-indecipherable as this one. In the end, however, only one conclusion is important for me to reach (and, rather ironically, it doesn’t really need my help in order to be pounded into your brain): see this movie. If you thought Nolan’s Batman Begins was a marvelous work of cinema, then prepare to be blown out of the water with The Dark Knight.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 7.21.2008

Screened on: 7.18.2008 at the Regal Escondido 16 in Escondido, CA and on 7.19.2008 at the Regal Oceanside 16 in Oceanside, CA.


The Dark Knight is rated PG-13 and runs 152 minutes.

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