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Batman has no limits
on October 9, 2008
In "Batman Begins," Christopher Nolan managed to do what few directors could do -- create a dark, gritty atmosphere around an all-too-human Batman, who fights for the oppressed with quiet intensity.
That moody murk is only intensified in the breathtaking, harrowing "Dark Knight," which fills itself with blasts of action, psychological twists and a shocking tragedy. Nolan pulls no punches for our dark knight or his ever-endangered Gotham City, but brilliant acting of the hero and villains is what truly elevates the second of Nolan's Batman movies to a work of cinematic art.
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) is continuing to fight the good fight for Gotham, even when he gets hurt in a fight against Scarecrow and some Batman impersonators.
So unsurprisingly, he's is feeling fairly in his crimefighting abilities, especially since the new DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is a morally-upright good-guy. But Batman isn't prepared for the Joker (Heath Ledger) a mad clownish psychopath who has hired himself out to the mob to destroy their worst enemy, the Dark Knight. He starts blackmailing Batman by killing Gotham citizens, and saying he won't stop until Batman turns himself in.
But even when captured, the Joker has an ace up his sleep -- Dent and Rachel Dawes' (Maggie Gyllenhaal) lives. And after a devastating loss, Batman finds himself dealing with the Joker taking all of Gotham hostage, and the maddened and disfigured Dent bringing vigilante justice to all those whom he thinks have wronged him. Only Batman has a chance of stopping even one of them -- let alone both -- but doing so may tarnish the Dark Knight forever.
Most directors would have given this movie a distinctly comic-book, slick pop-culture feel. But no matter how hard you search, there's not a single hint in "The Dark Knight" that anything kitschy or campy came before it, or that it was originally a comic book. Instead Christopher Nolan creates a movie as dark, tightly-wound and intense as Batman himself.
And Nolan's skills are even more polished this time around -- lots of kinetic action, vicious dogs and car chases, including the rather silly-looking Batpod and the tanklike Batmobile. The dialogue is drizzled with dry humor ("That isn't exactly what I had in mind when I said I wanted to inspire people"," Batman says, looking at a bunch of impersonators), mostly to temper the overhanging sense of horror and apprehension.
This is especially true whenever the Joker's corrosive presence is onscreen, since he's all too happy to stick pointy objects in people -- he's creepier than a thousand boogeymen. And Nolan is not afraid to further darken the storyline by inflicting yet another personal tragedy on Batman. His direction is painfully delicate as he explores Wayne's sorrow and guilt.
But the most striking aspect of "The Dark Knight" is Nolan's delvings into morality -- The Joker has none and Dent's becomes horribly perverted, but we're reminded that there are some who will not be corrupted even if they lose what is most precious. It's almost a doom'n'gloom movie, but the faint hints of optimism and hope keep it from being TOO overwhelmingly dark.
Christian Bale is simply perfection as Bruce Wayne/Batman, using his handsomely chiseled face and piercing eyes to best advantage -- even in the most tragic scenes, where you can practically see Wayne's soul bleeding. And he has a difficult character to wrangle with -- not only does he have to expose Batman's pain and struggles, but also his inner incorruptibility.
On the flipside, the late Heath Ledger is blindingly brilliant as the sadistic, creepy, gleefully malign Joker, and he chews the scenery as few actors could. He's pretty spine-chilling, actually -- the Joker is a true "agent of chaos," whose intent is to seize Gotham, and corrupt Batman's soul along the way.
There's also a solid (and underrated) supporting cast -- Eckhart is outstanding as an upstanding DA whose morality becomes horribly perverted (along with his handsome face), Gyllenhaal has a solid role that she plays well, and Michael Caine is a quiet, steady flame as the ever-faithful, dryly sardonic Alfred.
"The Dark Knight" is suffused with darkness and some truly ghastly villains, but the magnificent acting and dryly witty script are what really make this a masterpiece. Utterly astounding -- and promises better yet to come.