Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine
Watch The Dark Knight online in the UK: Amazon Prime Instant Video / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / TalkTalk / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Wuaki.tv
“This town deserves a better class of criminal. And I’m gonna give it to them.”
The scary part about The Joker (Ledger) in The Dark Knight is that he actually means it. His spree starts with a bank heist, but with a cruel twist: this is Heat done Gotham-style, and The Joker is literally making a killing. Manipulating those around him with remorseless glee, his carefully laid plan blossoms in front of the camera. He says he doesn’t have a strategy, mocking people’s attempt to control things. But that, of course, is his prime intention: chaos.
And that’s what Gotham gets. As criminals become increasingly sadistic, the public look less to Batman (Bale) for hope. He’s not their hero, though, just a vigilante on the outskirts of society. Enter Harvey Dent (Eckhart), the all-American idol who can clean up the streets without gadgets and masks. As Dent rises, so too does The Joker – the two must, inevitably, meet.
In the role of the villain, the late Ledger excels. Clearly relishing the psychotic side of life, he cackles and kills with a smile on his face. You can feel the panic as order gives way to amoral anarchy – wherever the camera takes us, Heath is always waiting off-screen, ready to pounce on his wary prey.
Throughout it all, the good guys soldier on. Backed by soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon (Oldman), they react to the escalating insanity as best they can. Divided by the population and rivals for Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal), Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent are carefully etched refractions of each other; could the legitimate lawyer really replace the illicit outcast?
As the tragic answer arises, The Joker underscores everything but never overshadows the other leads; The Dark Knight’s triumph lies in the fact that it is an ensemble piece. Far from Raimi’s fragmented spider-Man sequels, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have sculpted a superhero script around its central characters, telling one story, not several. Matching Batman Begin’s balance of intimate exchanges and moral conundrums, they flesh out their characters without relying on contrived exposition. The Coens and The Prestige aside, they’re one of the best writing duos since Charlie and Donald Kaufman.
There are problems, though: for all its laudable ambition, the film lines up one climax too many, getting carried away with its ethical dilemmas. The result is less focused than Batman Begins, but equally effective. Dragging Batman into the day, the visuals are bathed in glorious sunlight – a striking contrast to Wally Pfister’s cinematography on the first film. That exposed presentation makes The Dark Knight one of those rare comic book movies that can be described as realistic; thanks to its towering skyscrapers, overhanging monorails and background from Begins, Gotham city is located firmly in our world. In a genre of over-saturated clones, The Dark Knight is not the superhero flick we deserved, but the one we needed.
At the heart of it all? The man with no back story, just a pocket full of knives. Disturbing, entertaining, and bonkers in a very bad way, The Joker ties this film together. Completing a cast who are all on top form – except for Maggie’s wet blanket – he turns this thriller into a horror. Halfway through, he notes that you only really get to know a person just before they die; Heath’s final performance is enthralling. As far as last films go, you don’t get much better than this.
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