Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Go Ahead -- Believe the Hype

Again, my sis asked me to write a review for The Ford Show on, so I'm sharing it here with you. I kind of get the feeling it's going to be a regular thing, so I guess it's going to be a regular thing here too. I'm not as happy with this one as the one I wrote for Hancock, but I was under the gun to clock in at under three minutes, so . . . .

Christopher Nolan’s newest installment in the Batman series is perhaps the most hyped movie of the year if not the entire millennium. Even before Heath Ledger’s death last January, rumors were flying about his incendiary performance as The Joker. After his death, the murmurs grew to an almost deafening pitch as critics such as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone began banging the drum for Ledger to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination for his work. All of this hype begs the question: is Ledger’s work really that good? Is the movie itself really that good?

The answer, quite simply, is yeah, it is. The Dark Knight is a truly spectacular film.

Picking up where Batman Begins left off, we find Bruce Wayne’s alter ego Batman continuing his quest to rid Gotham City of the organized crime that is causing the city to rot away. He sees that the people are hungry for a hero. The question, though, is whether or not Batman can be the hero they need while still doing what needs to be done to fight crime – sometimes the good guys have to make unpopular choices. Batman’s internal conflict is only further complicated by the arrival of a new nemesis who makes the mob look like a box full of fluffy kittens: The Joker. Joker operates under no code with no greater purpose. As Alfred the butler notes at one point: “He just wants to see the world burn.” Joker kills and steals pretty much for the hell of it. If he has any agenda, it is chaos and a desire to prove to the world that the same darkness that drives him is a darkness that lurks in us all.

Battling the Joker pushes Bruce Wayne to question his mission. If he can’t be the hero Gotham needs, maybe Harvey Dent can be. Dent is the new crusading district attorney (and boyfriend of Bruce Wayne’s beloved Rachel – played here by a much stronger and more convincing Maggie Gyllenhaal). Like Bruce Wayne, Dent has made ridding Gotham of crime his number one goal. Harvey is the white knight to Bruce’s Dark Knight; they compliment each other perfectly. Of course, anyone who is familiar with the Batman canon knows Harvey’s fate – a fate which comes heartbreakingly to fruition and kicks the third act of the film into high gear.

The Dark Knight is an exciting, complicated, intelligent film that proves that action films don’t have to be mindless pieces of drivel. When you hire a talented, visionary director like Christopher Nolan and cast true, gifted actors like Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Aaron Eckhart, it is possible to create a film that both entertains and challenges, that has heart and pathos and energy. In all honesty, I often found myself thinking throughout the film that an actor of Bale’s caliber was maybe wasted in this film, but a lesser actor would never be able to walk that line of darkness that Bale does with such skill. Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent is largely overshadowed, at least in the press, by Ledger, which is a shame as Eckhart brings real charisma to his scenes as Harvey and terrifying pain to Harvey’s eventual fall.

This, of course, brings us to Heath Ledger. That this character will be Ledger’s lasting legacy is both heartbreaking and inspiring. This performance is truly an acting master class in surrendering to a character. Much has been made about how the darkness of the Joker may have played a part in Ledger’s accidental overdose, that he had such a hard time letting go of that darkness to the point that it haunted him. I didn’t see a character consumed by darkness so much as I saw an actor consumed by the sheer joy of playing a character that takes him on such a ride. He looks like he is having the time of his life just letting go and surrendering to the gleeful mania that is the Joker. Ledger has never seemed quite so alive and vibrant on film as he does here. Is it Oscar worthy? Most definitely. Let’s just hope that the Academy remembers him – and this film – in 6 months.

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