Historical Circuit: The Dark Knight (***½)

30 Days of Batman continues…

I’ve revitalized my review from 2008 of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight with a hybrid, truly analyzing the film with hindsight and perspective:

Director Christopher Nolan has created the newly invented and ultimately prestigious, The Dark Knight, the sequel to his revolutionary Batman Begins. Nolan has completely raised the bar and set the standards high for him and any comic book film that will ever be adapted. Nolan also created one of his darkest pictures to date, definitely his strongest so far from his already impressive film credits which includes Memento and The Prestige.

The screenplay written by David S. Goyer and Christopher and Jonathan Nolan breathes new humanity into the Caped Crusader. As we left off in the previous film, Batman is now fighting crime and sorting himself out while Gotham City is becoming a safe haven for its people. Bruce Wayne and Batman are co-existing with the help of his butler Alfred, and technological analyst Lucius Fox. The three writers put Batman through things never seen on film before. He learns about sacrifice, and not jumping in front of a bullet or giving up your girlfriend sacrifice, Bruce will learn about real loss of self, integrity and identity. The film works and succeeds as a real super-hero tragedy, The Dark Knight holds resonance and prestige the way 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back did as it held its own on its individual merit and not its predecessor.

Christian Bale returns as the Caped Crusader, both playing Batman and the millionaire Bruce Wayne.  . Always creating new characters, mannerisms, behavior, Bale is one of the great actors working today however, Bale as the “dark knight” this time around, seems forced, too controlled, too over-the-top. His Bruce Wayne is, as always, charming but something didn’t seem to work when he transforms into Batman. His voice is the most ridiculous interpretation and far too distracting to be taken seriously.

Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, is amiable, gracious, and wise as he provides a balance to the film.  Gary Oldman as the newly appointed Lieutenant Gordon is nearly flawless in poise and makes the role seem effortless. How Gary Oldman has flown under the Oscar radar in his long career is inexcusable, this man’s supporting work is vast and just as nomination worthy as co-star Ledger. Morgan Freeman, as always, gives a presence in a film that relaxes the viewer as we’re pulled through this thrill ride.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, taking over Katie Holmes’ previous role of Rachel Dawes puts forth a valiant effort and superior than Holmes’ turn last time around but a realization has come to me following the film. For myself, the worst part of Batman Begins was Katie Holmes and I blamed the performance on her, which is ¾ of the way true but after watching a great actress like Gyllenhaal, who has had impressive turns in Sherrybaby and World Trade Center, I’ve come to recognize that the character is just poorly written and its Nolan himself who is at fault. Rachel Dawes is the fluke in Nolan’s plan for this comic book franchise. She’s unimportant and not very likable. She holds some significance in Bruce Wayne’s life and as we learn, now D.A. Harvey Dent’s life.  The problem is she holds no significance in the viewer.  The love triangle between the three is unnatural and not at all inspiring.

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent delivers his best performance to date. Eckart, who has really shown some promise over the years (as we’ve seen in Erin Brockovich and Thank You for Smoking) plays Harvey like Tommy Lee Jones from Batman Forever only could have hoped for. Eckhart reveals Harvey’s inner most demons but never loses the mystery of the man. He’s tantalizing in the finale of the film and shows what a three-dimensional character can really be.  He’s one of the true surprises of The Dark Knight.

Now what everyone wants to read about:  Heath Ledger’s frightening turn will probably go down as one of the darkest and most creative villainous turns by any actor in American cinema. Nolan guides Heath down a corridor only Heath can follow, where the Joker’s existence and style are revealed but only to himself. The only problem I’ve ever had with Tim Burton’s take on Batman in 1989 is where the Joker fits in Batman’s life.  The unnecessary tie of the Joker to Bruce Wayne’s parent’s death was questionable to say the least. Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker marvelously, allowed the comic book to guide his work.  Ledger had no such agenda.  Where Ledger delivered a pulse-pounding work in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, he follows it with the most frightening and ambitious turn of his early career.  He gives the Joker unbalance, anarchy, hatred, carnage, and no resolution.  His enigma is so profound, all we want is more Joker but Nolan’s script and direction is used sparingly.  It’s the best usage of a character in a superhero film to date.  What makes the work so much more enticing is I thoroughly believe, in my cinematic heart of hearts, that Heath Ledger only gave us the tip of the iceberg.  Nolan’s planned trilogy had the Joker in the finale,

The film is not flawless, and should not be overblown in the mind of the viewer as THE best film of 2008.  Where it has style and substance, it lacks a true defining moment of filmmaking that would land it among the finest films ever made.  It’ll have to settle with the best superhero film.  That’s a pretty good accomplishment for now.