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The Dark Knight

August 25, 2010

The Dark Knight (2008)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Actors: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart

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Synopsis: Gotham City has a new threat: The Joker (Heath Ledger).

Review: The Dark Knight is a significant step up from Christopher Nolan’s opening salvo in his Dark Knight trilogy, Batman Begins. It’s almost as if – freed from the excessively stodgy remit he gave himself in the first film of having to flesh out the the genesis of Batman and the ethical framework governing his existence – Nolan could really get stuck into what he wanted to do: presenting a really cerebral superhero-cum-action movie doused in all the best bits of the crime/gangster films that Nolan, the cinephile, knows so well.

There’s no denying that The Dark Knight is a dazzling, virtuoso piece of cinema – both in terms of spectacle and in the dense and layered storytelling. Without the need for excessive exposition, the film becomes pure swoon from the off – as if The Joker’s in media res bank robbery opening is somehow emblem for this film’s luxuriating in the “thrill of the chase” and the trickery of its plot from the get-go. The film must be Wally Pfister’s crowning glory too: his cinematography (along with the production design) is immense. Batman’s temporary underground lair while Wayne Manor is being rebuilt is a quite spectacular construct: a long rectangular room with an incredibly low ceiling, and shrouded in a Kubrickesque dazzling sheer white light. At times, this visual allure almost becomes a tad indulgent though – some of the chase scenes seem to have been designed just so they can be exhibited and gorged on, and the whole subplot of Lao needing to be brought back from Hong Kong feels disingenuous from a storytelling perspective but is a good excuse for a spectacular stunt in the picturesque Hong Kong and to create a witty conceit about Batman dumping Lao back in Gotham City.

It’s worth noting that Nolan passed scriptwriting duties to brother, Jonathan Nolan, after David S. Goyer’s unwieldy efforts with Batman Begins. As with Memento, it’s a structurally impressive piece of work. The anarchic, apocalyptic feel of The Joker’s stranglehold on Gotham City is reflected on the lack of power Nolan gives his audience: multiple, cris-crossing developments are pursued by the equally confused police, with a usually ‘leftfield’ denouement undercutting the expectation of how each ruse is likely to be resolved.

Just once or twice, Nolan does almost seem to get too engrossed in chase/explosion fetish and the industrial minutiae of his storytelling. And some of the leaps of faith required in the story’s development to keep up with the didactic moralising stretch credibility (that Harvey Dent would go from a really intelligent, ballsy, resilient DA to malevolent villain after losing his girlfriend). That aside, this is a supremely impressive piece of filmmaking and surely the high point in cinema’s ongoing dalliance with the superhero genre.(August 2008)

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