Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Dark Knight

In writing this review I agonized how to start it; but here goes: Just because there is a clown-like character does not mean The Dark Knight is a movie for children particularly those that barely walk.

I began that way because I was distracted – fortunately not so much – by a child, who seems to me, not old enough to walk. The mother had enough sense to go out with the child before making too much of a scene. So before bringing your child for this movie watch Batman Begins and maybe this time understand it, or, keep note of the fact that Adam West is 80 years old. The Dark Knight is not for children!

Maybe, just to be fair, those parents that I saw were like me who thought the buzz surrounding the performance of the late Heath Ledger as Joker were all just hype. Maybe they said all the noise was shrewd advertising; making use of the dead guy. After all what change can a young actor make in a character that is part clown. Clown equals kids and the Joker does have goofy clothes and even has goofy weapons. So what change can he do?

A lot, surprisingly. And, what made it a surprise was that like many parents (who expected the clown) I never thought reducing the clown would work. It did!!!

For starters the smile has changed somewhat. No more of that permanent by-product of a chemical burn that’s both cute and eerie. In Dark Knight the smile’s more straightforwardly psychotic, especially when you hear how it came about – all versions of it. You see the Joker says a different version every time with a knife.

It’s a great approach. That penchant for giving a different smile origin per person retains the classical sick sense of humor; so the clown still exists. He no longer has his toys but is well compensated with knives. He laughs more sparingly but is scarier whenever he did. So sorry, this Joker is not for you kids.

He is for grown-ups to enjoy and to decipher as he matches the triumvirate of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and Batman (Christian Bale), move for move. But the surprising thing for me, and it gives Joker a more sinister aura in spite of the jester façade, is that he also matches Batman in vision. He is as he said it himself “a better class of criminal”.

The Dark Knight is proof that hype is not always full of hot air. Everything you see is this movie is solid acting. Heath Ledger, though passed away, will not fade into memory but immortalized as the best Joker ever.

And what of that other guy I mentioned, the one in weird body armor: Batman? He remains effective both as a billionaire playboy who genuinely looks like he loves his toys (meaning the chopper, the babes the Lamborghini); and as a man facing an uphill battle alone. It’s just that in this film he’s ripped from the pedestal of being the main guy.

Jim Gordon, always a gem. I doubt I can ever say anything bad about Gary Oldman. Aaron Eckhart’s performance as District Attorney Dent was also commendable. I especially like his transformation from passionate law abiding attorney to just a deadly disillusioned shell of a lawyer.

Maggie Gyllenhaal who took over Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes distracts me a little. It’s not her performance mind you but more about the discontinuity, a horse changed in midstream. Maggie gives more credibility to the character than Katie who was pathetically weak as a prosecutor.

Compared to Batman Begins, The Dark Night is darker, more depressing. Good guys are in a retreat; the entire city is in chaos; people are scared because of Joker’s bad make up and dead bodies piling up. The story is a debate between chaos and order; the appreciation of rules or having none. More importantly it is a debate of where one stands in crisis. Will anything rules matter when desperate?

Fortunately for Bruce Wayne he had Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) under his payroll to remind him what is what.

Me, I’d decide different from what the characters did in key portions of the movie especially in that boat scene. But in spite of my disagreement I understand the point of it. If anything it’s the only point in the film that signaled hope. It’s believable.

The Dark Knight is a perfect mesh of everything from characters to storyline; from being dark and having pinholes of hope. Fortunately, unlike the story this movie has no crisis, but is doing as the Joker said an “aggressive expansion” in the box office.

Be a part of that expansion, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.