Monday, July 21, 2008

Do not go gentle into that Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan's follow up to his Batman Begins is confirmation that his is the smartest and most darkly prescient. The action sequences are fewer than one might expect, but rewarding, and something of a miracle these days, the scenes in between are almost as electrifying. The first Batman film was a moral quandary on justice, revenge, and fear, but of a highly personal sort. The Darl Knight tackles the same themes but on a richer plane, and crafts a film that is deeper, scarier, and in many ways far subtler. Batman's task of cleaning up Gotham is well underway at the start, with the addition of Aaron Eckhart's smarmy political crusader who complicates Batman's night job, if not his day job as playboy. Enter Heath Ledger as the joker, a villain of such brilliant comic grotesquery, a pantomime of neurotic ticks and anarchistic fantasy. The sides are murky: the Joker is one step ahead of the various other crime kingpins in the city, but it's not about money or even power, but some sadistically twisted need for disorder. Batman, Gary Oldman's indie cop, and Eckhart's by-the-books DA battle each other while battling crime. But the real clincher is the public, whether in terms of opinion, vigilante justice, or in an inspiredly tense scene involving two groups on boats, the power of the public voice is where the heart of the film's message and discomfort lies. The story is a complex battle of egos and fists, fighting crime and the clock, with enough wit and cleverness in the characters to keep it snappy and reassuring. The cast is impeccable; aside from Ledger's psychosis, Bale proves himself impressively versatile once again, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman exude wit and class, Eckhart and Oldham are perfect in their vintage roles, and Maggie Gyllenhall does her best with the thankless task of the girlfriend, but improves much over Katie Holmes (no wonder). More than just your summer blockbuster, The Dark Knight provides darkly glittering entertainment, and an escape into the problems of the modern world, rather than away from it.


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