Dark Knight (2008)

Penny said

I saw Dark Knight, the new Batman movie and it was pretty awesome. Heath Ledger was amazing (in one scene he is just sitting in the jail cell and you can sense the madness and energy around him…blew me away). Really, solid performances all around (thank goodness Morgan Freeman doesn’t swear in this movie)…except Christian Bale had some “American Psycho” moments going on. Plus, I don’t like how Batman growls everything. Sounds phony. And one scene was difficult to understand because of they way they shot it.

Otherwise, LOVED this flick. Cool stunts, but what was more intriguing was the moral aspect to it. All about choices and at what point do “decent” and “civilized” people become indecent and uncivilized. Also brought up themes about what and who a hero is and is not and what the people need and what they want are not always the same.

And in the comic book is Bruce Wayne kind of a playboy jerk? I thought he was kind of a loner/mysterious and more philanthropist than playboy. Just wondering.

Reid
Dark Knight (2008)
Dir. Christopher Nolan
8/10

Penny thought I’d like this, and she was right. I’m not sure how many of you will enjoy this, but I do know that some of you–like Mitchell, Grace–would appreciate seeing this, at the very least because there is an aspect of this film that ranks among the best of its kind. While the film is good, I found it uneven, too, and I’ll go into that later. Larri liked it, but my brother only gave it a 6/10. Btw, I did not care for the Batman Begins. (I think I gave it a 4 or 5.) Metacritic score is in the 80s.

**
Is a plot description necessary? Everyone knows who the Batman is. Ditto the Joker. The film has the Batman and the Joker, nuff said, right? Well, OK maybe not. I can say that if you’re just expecting a typical super-hero action film you might be disappointed. But if you don’t like those films, you should consider seeing this. Personally, I think the interest of the film is mainly in the characters and some of moral issues that arise in the film. This film presents, by far, the most interesting moral situations and complex characters than any of the other comic adaptations.

***
There is one thing that stands out and must be talked about before anything else and that is Heath Ledger’s performance. He has created one of the all-time great villians and perhaps turned in one of the all-time best performances. Yes, I mean that. His performance alone makes the film worth seeing, at least if seeing great performances matters to you.

For one thing, I didn’t even know that was him playing the role. Yes, the makeup and puffed cheeks had something to do with it–btw, whoever decided on the make-up and hairstyle, particuarly the smeared look and the greasy, stringy hair, deserved credit in the creation of the character–but it was also his mannerisms and voice that threw me off. I still can’t believe it was Ledger.

The other extraordinary thing about this performance is the way Ledger brought life, in electrifying and terrifying fashion, to a character so well-worn that he’s boring. Not only that, but this is a specific role that actors can easily turn into silly burlesque (See Jack Nicholson’s performance in the Burton Batman). Ledger’s Joker is anything but silly. (Indeed, there were lines delivered by Ledger that I might have expected the audience to chuckle or laugh, but in those moments all I heard was a deathly silence.) The character he creates is utterly creepy and believeable–someone I took very seriously. What is truly remarkable about this performance is the realism of the character. I can hear some people saying, “The Joker from the Batman comics? he guy played by Cesar Romero in those dorky purple outfits.” Yeah, him. Ledger takes that Joker and makes him someone you’re actually afraid of. The last time I felt that way toward a fictional character was probably Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, but Ledger’s Joker may be scarier.

I’m focusing on Ledger’s performance, but not giving credit to the other filmmakers involved (like director, Christopher Nolan, the cinematographer) would be unfair. There is a whole mood and look to the film that adds to the believabilty and creepiness of the Joker’s character. You can really see this in the opening scene, which has an almost hazy look and very spare and simple musical score. This last part was very crucial, I thought. Often in action films, especially comic book adaptations, filmmakers utilize an orchestral based score, but here the sounds are more like loud noises and sometimes there is an absence of sound altogether (someting I know Mitchell will probably appreciate). Nolan also made a smart decision to forgo all the gadgets the Joker’s gadgets, asmart move. All of this created a realism that helped make the Joker believeable, which made him that much scarier.

There’s another thing that Nolan and Johnathan Nolan (screenwriters) add to the Joker character, namely his strategic intelligence. With some quibbles, most of the Joker’s strategic moves were very satisfying. This is what made him so formidable (and perhaps one of the most formidable villians of all-time). I found myself feeling like I wouldn’t have minded if the Batman killed him off before the film ended; I was looking for some relief.

I’m talking about this Joker almost as if he’s a villian in a horror film and that is basically what he is. My sister-and-law took her kids to this film and had to walk out because she was getting creeped out by him. The word “malevolent force” comes to mind when I think of this character and it alludes to the vibe Penny felt when the Joker was in prison. It’s a shame that Ledger is no longer alive. I can’t imagine anyone playing the role. (Well, maybe someone can, but they’ll basically be trying to copy Ledger’s performance.) I also can’t imagine anyone else turning in a better performance than this.

On to other matters. Penny mentioned the moral aspects to the story. I liked those parts, too, but I felt Nolan’s treatment of them were uneven and not fully satisfying. Why? Well, I just feel like he lacked certain a deeper understanding of the psychological and spiritual aspects of human beings to satisfyingly deal with moral themes and situations he presented. I have a hard time recalling things from this film. One of the reasons I think I have a hard time was the way Nolan edits and places the sequence of events. I missed some dialogue, too. Penny mentioned that she had a hard time understanding certain lines, and Larri and I had the same problem, although it wasn’t just limited to Christian Bale’s growling (I didn’t care for that, too; it gave him a “Columbia School of Broadcasting” super-hero voice, where a more natural realistic voice would have been more helpful, I think.).

Btw, I’m not a big fan of Christian Bale. He’s too “white-bread” for me: plain and dull. Penny mentioned the “American Psycho” side coming out, but I didn’t get that at all. Yeah, he got angry, but the darker side of his personality failed to convince me.

As for the action scenes, there were some pretty good ones. The chase scene was pretty good. I especially pretty much excluded any score in those scenes. The scene where Batman takes on the Joker while on his bike was also pretty thrilling. The other scenes, especially the fight scenes with Batman I found dull for some reason. Partly, it’s because Nolan didn’t shoot the action so the audience can see everything unfold (the camera too close to the action).

Back to the moral questions. I should go back and watch the film so that I can give specific reasons I was not totally satisfied. I did like a lot of the issues and complexity he brought up; they were way more interesting than the action parts of the film. Maybe part of the reason was that I didn’t think the Batman character was as interesting or realistic (psychologically) and was not a worthy protagonist to the Joker’s antagonist. I think Bale is too bland, even wooden. I don’t feel convinced that this is a guy that wants to really do good and help people. At the same time, the conflict and temptation and the resistance to the temptation lacks the a believeable drama. I don’t know. The more I write about this, the more I want to re-watch the film to analyze these specific points.

Something might have been lacking in the Harvey “Two-Face” character, too. He’s an interesting character, but I may have needed more understanding of his motivation to do the good things he did; Eckhart didn’t fully convince me that he was this genuinely righteous person (he needed more of that Jimmy Stewart element; it would have been interesting to see Stewart play this character). And when he melts down (no pun intended), his aggression seeemd incongruous. Yes, he’s gone crazy, but the character or scene lacks something to fully convince me.

Penny
This movie would have been utterly fantastic if Bale and Eckhart’s performances rose to the level of Ledger’s. Perhaps we would not be as critical of their performances if Ledger had not been as amazing as he was, but he was amazing and Bale couldn’t keep up. Batman is presented with some serious quandries and while there is a hint of it, Bale’s performance failed to flesh it out. Batman (or Bruce Wayne) does not seem to agonize over his decisions; and they are truly agonizing decisions. And if Bale’s performance had been stronger, the dichotomy between the Joker and Batman would have been heightened, which would have made the movie more dynamic.

I agree with Reid’s assessment of Eckhart’s “Two-Face” performance. I started thinking about how “No Country for Old Men” did a better job at portraying a similar aspect of a character’s perspective about chance and justice and fairness.

Reid
Back to Dark Knight (spoilers)

Penny,

I think Bale is partly to blame, but not totally. I agree that the audience sees very little of Batman’s struggle with the quandries he faced, but the Nolans (director and writers) give much camera time to this either. Moreover, the way Batman (and even the people on the boat) resolve these issues seem a bit hollow. This treatment gives the impression that the filmmakers are content to just get to a happy resolution. Batman can’t just kill off (running him over or allowing him to fall) or torture the Joker (not much anyway) because that would alienate the audience. But without showing Batman wrestle with these situations and work to a satisfying resolution, his decisions to behave in the moral and decent way are empty and unsatisfying, at least for me. Yes, Bale didn’t show us the inner struggle, and he may not have done a good job if he tried, but Nolan doesn’t give him much screen time to do this (at least based on my memory). This struggle and the resolution seems absent in the script as well. Seeing Batman compromise himself or lose control at behave immorally would have been more interesting, more dark. This Batman is not very dark, and if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a satifying way for Batman to resolve these dilemnas, showing him succumb to darker impulses may have been more interesting. (There’s another issue that the filmmakers raise–namely, the fact that the existence of Batmen is leading normal citizens to copy his vigilante approach–but, as I recall, the filmmakers move on to other issues before they deal with this.)

By the way, I have a similar complaint to the ending of A Few Good Men. The filmmakers don’t respond in a satisfying way to Col. Jessup’s tirade about the way civilization needs someone willing to commit horrendous acts in order to keep people safe. Are those horrendous acts necessary? The film totally chickens out and avoids dealing with the question. Dark Knight raises similar questions, and like A Few Good Men, pretty much cops out on seriously addressing them.

On another note, did you find some of the scenes hard to follow? For example, the last scene with Batman using the “cellular sonar.” Telling who’s who and what’s happening was not easy. Some of the other scenes were like that, too. Also, the sub-plot with the Hong Kong accountant seemed uncessary.

When I factor these deficiencies into the movie, I should give the movie a lower rating, say a 7/10. Ledger’s performance prevents me from lowering the score.

Marc
Ok, I’ll bite since I’ve actually seen Batman recently and I have a few different perspectives to offer. Spoilers will follow.

I thought the movie was great. I agree that Ledger’s performance was the best thing but I also think that he really was the focus of this movie. Certainly in many superhero movies the villain is the most memorable character and I think this is the case in every Batman movie except *Batman Begins* which I thought was quite good too. In any case, Ledger was outstanding. Even more, as written, he was almost believable and he was really scary.

My different perspective is probably on Christian Bale. I think of all the actors to play Batman since the first Burton movie, he is by far the best one, probably because he brings the most intensity to the role. I’m not sure how he could have done better in this role and I don’t know who would have done better. In past recent movies, I thought he was really good in *3:10 to Yuma*, *The Prestige*, and *Batman Begins*.

I guess my problem with the movie is that there was so much going on. Some commented earlier about getting deeper in the quandaries and situations but the movie was already 2.5 hours long without very much space to breathe. I would have liked to have seen fewer plotlines and more depth but this is probably a matter of taste. For example, did we really need Two-Face to be involved in this movie? Wasn’t there enough with the Joker? Also, I guess I’d quibble that most of the danger faced in this movie was by supporting characters, not Batman. Sure, the main conflict was between Batman and the Joker but I never got the sense that Batman was really in danger of dying. His major conflict was whether to reveal himself and trying to save everyone around him. When all of the character’s motivations are altruistic it seems hard to delve into the dark side. In this movie, the Joker was remade to great success and Batman was left as is.

In any event, I’ll probably make this one of the rare movies that I see twice in the theatres because I felt like I missed things and I feel like it deserves to be seen on the big screen, at least until I spend another bunch of money on my home theatre setup.

Reid
Marc,

To me Bale needed to reveal more of the internal struggle of the character, although this is an action film most of the important action and action should have taken place within Batman. He has a lot of tough issues to deal with: can he justify his actions in a society governed by “rule of law”–he’s partly responsible for the spate of vigilante copycats? should he give up his identity to prevent people from dying? who should he save–the love of his life or the one person who can “legitimately” clean up the city? should he kill the Joker? Batman’s struggle–and there not insignficant (they probably seem that way just because of this deficiency I’m talking about) and the way he ultimately resolves them were, to me, the heart of the film.

Because I feel that, I agree that they should have eliminated some plot-lines or de-emphasized the action or gadgets made room for this internal drama. This is what the filmmakers did with the Joker character with good effect. What if they had done the same with Batman–such as cutting out the scenes going to Hong Kong, which put in for the action sequence. De-emphasizing the Batman’s gadgets would have been a bold move that could have helped the film by focusing on its heart. But the Hollywood suits would probably never go for that.

As for who could have played him, I’m not sure. Someone like Clive Owen comes to mind, primarily because he has a dark vibe to him. What about Leonardo DiCaprio? Maybe too boyish, but he could bring the intensity, degree of darkness needed and the subtlety in acting. Daniel Craig might be very good, too, but he’s already James Bond. (Did you see Casino Royale. It’s really good, and I would recommend it.) Bale is too all-American and his acting too wooden. He doesn’t have a malleable enough face to let viewers into his thoughts. He would have been a better Superman, which is not a good sign. Batman, especially if they’re going to pursue the “Dark Knight” theme is not a clear cut good guy. Bale and the other filmmakers don’t really do a good job of showing that. What was so dark about him? There’s little that I can recall about him that I would label dark. Now, if he had behaved questionably that would have been interesting.

Marc
Reid, I just don’t think we’re going to agree on the Bale and Batman thing. In my mind, Bale didn’t really have the opportunity to show what was going on inside Batman’s head because the focus of the movie was so intensely on Ledger and the Joker and the movie was so busy. I enjoyed *Batman Begins* and thought Bale was very good there, he didn’t do anything to make me think differently in this movie. I guess I would say that Bale was a strength in *Batman Begins* but would disagree with the premise that Bale was a weakness in *Dark Knight*. I really don’t think any of the other actors you mentioned would have given Batman a darker flavor in the movie as it was written and directed. I think Owen and Craig are probably too old to have played the young Bruce Wayne in the first movie and I don’t know that we could have bought DiCaprio in the role. I even wonder if seeing Bale as all-American isn’t such a bad thing given that he’s a British actor portraying an American playboy. In any event, I think Bale is clearly the best of all the actors to have portrayed Batman and that there is no shame in being overshadowed by Ledger in *Dark Knight*.

Marc
Saw *Dark Knight* again this weekend. Can’t remember the last time I saw a movie twice in the theatre but Christi wanted to see it and there is a new theatre that just opened.

Second impression: plot points that I missed the first time became clearer and man there were a lot of them (verrrry busy story), the Joker was still scary, the sound was still poorly mixed and the dialogue still difficult to understand, and I still think that Bale didn’t have much of a chance to do much especially when compared to Ledger.

Still enjoyed it a lot though. Won’t see it a third time.

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