Everything works in The Dark Knight. There is not a single weak link in the chain. Christopher Nolan, the man behind one of my personal favorite films Memento, does an outstanding job of handling this material. He has created a city that has descended into disorder and desperation. Gotham is unforgiving and the people that dwell there are just as harsh. They would have to be in order to survive. Even though this city has fallen to corruption and crime, Nolan does a tasteful job of not exploiting that fact to a point beyond where anybody can appreciate it. His focus lies on the conflicts of Bruce Wayne and the rise of the evil Joker. He presents us with the question of how far should anybody be willing to go to protect what they believe is right. Nolan also accomplishes the feat of tackling multiple storylines without becoming jumbled and confusing. The movie slides easily from scene to scene, changing directions but always remaining focused. Some excellent cinematography helps to ease the viewer into each scene without jarring them, but also without dragging them in kicking and screaming. The action in The Dark Knight is without a doubt heart racing, adrenaline pumping fun that doesn't get too bogged down in its scale. Although not without its share of CGI, Nolan only uses it whenever is absolutely necessary and doesn't turn this epic crime drama into a third rate superhero flick. That's right, I don't even consider this film a superhero film. It packs the punch of an excellent action film, but also is an enthralling exploration of the unending battle between good and evil, right and wrong. Nolan is at the top of his game with The Dark Knight, as he somehow manages to surpass his masterpiece Memento. I guess that would make The Dark Knight a....super masterpiece?
Direction alone cannot make a movie brilliant, though. One needs a cast that can take a script and turn it into a something real. In other words, take a fictional story but make the audience believe it's true. To say the all star cast of The Dark Knight did that would be an understatement. Christian Bale is the most intimidating Batman and the most arrogant Bruce Wayne in the history of the franchise. His struggles and battles that he must face as both Wayne and Batman are all exemplified perfectly, bringing the viewer into his head to feel exactly what he feels. His struggle to maintain composure in the face of the insane Joker shows us all that everyone has a breaking point, even people masquerading as a bat. Bale's versatility as an actor really permeates through to the audience in every movie he does. You can also feel Bruce's heartache as he loses Rachel to Harvey. Aaron Eckhart gives a top notch performance as righteous Harvey Dent, the man who wants to clean up Gotham without wearing a mask. As Dent, Eckhart is a delight to watch as he spreads his ordeals and stands up to the injustices of his city. When Dent unavoidably becomes Two-Face (that's not really a spoiler, so don't be upset), his fight for what is right becomes a flawed mission as he turns to vigilantism himself. Using the flip of a coin to decide whether someone lives or dies, Harvey "Two-Face" Dent is a depressing reminder that everyone is corruptable. Echkart's performance is definitely note-worthy, but unfortunately he will most likely be overshadowed by another performance (Hint: It's not Maggie Gyllenhaal). In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes was played plainly and unenthusiastically by Katie Holmes. Well in The Dark Knight, since everything else was better, Holmes was swapped out for an upgrade, but not too much of an upgrade to Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal brings us a much more convincing performance as the one woman in Gotham to know Batman's true identity, and the agony that comes with that knowledge is detectable on her face. Although her character is in love with Harvey, anytime she is near Bruce you can sense desire between both parties.
But you probably don't care about Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance. Chances are if you care about this movie, there is only one person you really want to hear about. That is the late Heath Ledger, who portrays the dysfunctional Joker. Ledger has brought forth the most frightening and deranged villain since Hannibal Lector. The way he so completely became this role, creating strange mannerisms and tics, makes you believe that there is not even an actor playing this man, and that he truly exists. The paint on his face that is often a runny mess symbolizes the insanity lying beneath that face, and how utterly diabolic his mind works. Christopher Nolan does not give a backstory to the Joker either. He has no identification, his fingerprints are unique, his DNA has no matches, he has no discernible origin whatsoever. He is genuinely an entity that was born from the presence of Batman. In a few memorable scenes, the Joker explains how the scars on his face came to be, but the story changes each time. This could simply be a part of his insanity, or maybe it is a sign that not even the Joker himself can remember who he was before Batman. Ledger is absolutely phenomenal as this unprecedented character, stealing every scene that he is in. His actions and words hypnotize you so that you cannot help but be scared. It would be downright foolish to not nominate him for Best Supporting Actor. Now some people might be saying "Oh well you are just saying this because he died and it's sympathy for him that everyone is giving him this praise". Well I'll tell you right now that what happened to Heath Ledger in real life is completely irrelevant. As I watched The Dark Knight, I didn't even see Heath Ledger. I saw the Joker.
Whenever I review a film and give it a high grade, I always consider that it is just my opinion and that there are probably many people who dislike the movies that I give tens. People could find No Country For Old Men boring and I understand that. People could find A Clockwork Orange too controversial and inappropriate and I understand that. People could find The Shining too slow and I understand that. But not this film. I find it hard to believe that anybody could completely dislike The Dark Knight. Yes the movie is dark and it has a very bleak message, but Batman is a dark comic book. That is the way it should be. The way it was meant to be. Length is not an issue with this film, despite a run time of 2 and a half hours. I promise you it will fly by, and you may even want it to last longer just like I did. With not a single flaw (except maybe some improbable forensic software), I am obligated to give this film the highest rating possible. With a movie this captivating, the sad question is asked: How will they top it? My rating: (10/10)
This review is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Nowak.