This Comic Book Film is a Haunting, Gritty, Cinematic Masterpiece
Opined by Bryan Ray of @DRMovieNews
Calling The Dark Knight a comic book or superhero film are the last words we would use to describe this haunting, gritty crime drama. Director Christopher Nolan, somehow, manages to ascend over Batman Begins and increase the stakes higher than ever, which proposed an even more intelligent story than its fantastic predecessor.
This film blurs the lines on what a comic book movie can be and how it can become a cinematic experience. However, this time, it wasn’t a Bruce Wayne story. The Dark Knight was produced as an ensemble narrative with a menacing clown pulling all the strings.
Speaking of which, this masterpiece belongs to The Joker.
Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, brilliantly designed every aspect of the film to foil Batman as a character. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), refuses to be with Bruce because of his Batman alter-ego. She is also in a serious relationship with a powerful district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).
The people of Gotham are casting out Batman as a vigilante, claiming that he is responsible for the death and destruction to the city. The criminal underground has infested the underbelly of Gotham. And, finally, an anarchist clown whose only goal is to break Batman’s moral code is pulling all of the strings.
It’s perfect storytelling that conjures so much conflict against our hero. These obstacles painfully prevent Batman from being the guardian for Gotham that he wants to be and the hero that Gotham needs him to be.
Christian Bale delivers one of the most layered, complex, and heartbreaking performances of his career in his second outing as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Nolan Brothers craft the story in a way that requires a high-caliber performance to truly sells the weight of the conflict.
Bale delivers more than a few Oscar-caliber, dialogue-heavy moments, some of the most emotional moments are conveyed with no dialogue. The image of a broken hero pondering the tragedies and darkness taking over his life, conveyed with only eyes and body language, is extremely effective and heartbreaking.
Aaron Eckhart has possibly the most tragic and radical character metamorphosis in the film. He goes from being Gotham’s “white knight” to a shattered, broken shell of a man. Unfortunately, he is often overshadowed by other key performances in the film although he stands alongside the other characters brilliantly, delivering a unshakably complex and intense performance. The script asks a ton out of him, and he more than delivers.
Maggie Gyllenhaal kills it as Rachel Dawes and is a huge step-up from Katie Holmes’ take in Batman Begins. Charismatic, quick-witted, and tragically emotional, Gyllenhaal portrays Rachel in perfect fashion. The Nolans craft her character in a fearless way, as she takes on conflict with unflinching confidence. While serious, she is also genuinely lovable in her scenes with both Bruce and Harvey. Her chemistry with both of them is great.
Gary Oldman has a much larger, more powerful role in this film than he did in Batman Begins. Oldman, a core member in the ensemble cast of characters, connects all of the key characters (except Lucius and Alfred) in the core narrative.
He is an important figure in the lives of Batman, Rachel, and Harvey. This makes him an important target in Joker’s plan. Oldman plays Gordon with true honesty, heart, intellect, and genuine emotion.
Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman return as Alfred and Lucius, in albeit more serious performances. These characters are paramount in the character construction and stability of Bruce Wayne, giving the struggling character rocks to fall back on for advice. They are both incredible, obviously. It’s Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman for goodness sake.
Finally, Heath Ledger delivers one of the greatest performances from an actor in the history of cinema. He portrays the “Clown Prince of Crime,” The Joker. Ledger brings The Joker to life with menacing charisma and terrifying nuances, while grounding him in disturbing reality.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan craft the film’s narrative around The Joker, which is why I view the film as a true ensemble. The Joker is a threat to every character’s life and is ultimately successful in his plan to break down every hero to their core.
Incredibly enough, among all the darkness of his character, the film forces the viewer to actually understand and sympathize with his diabolical, terroristic justifications. The Joker is a revelation in character structure and how to properly construct a terrifying cinematic adversary.
The film’s defining scene, a conversation between The Joker and Batman in an interrogation room, is the entire film in a nutshell.
Wally Pfister’s cinematography locks the viewer in. Nolan’s unwavering suspense looms over the characters. Zimmer’s spine-crawling score prevents all relaxation. The brilliantly sold interaction between Bale and Ledger slowly builds to an emotion-fueled climax. And The Joker ultimately gets the last laugh. Heart wrenching, brutal, and relentlessly mesmerizing moments like this in film are an absolute team effort. Everyone involved in this scene, and in the entire film, gives their very best, and it all shows on screen.
The Dark Knight is as Shakespearean, tragic, haunting, gritty, and realistic as any heavy hitting, R-Rated drama. Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece will continue to blow minds and be discussed for an eternity.
DR Diagnosis: 100%
(Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures / DC Comics / Syncopy)