17 July 2008

Mooney at the Movies: The Dark Knight

Batman and Joker share their taste for the theatrical. (Warner Bros.)

The Dark Knight (A)

Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman
Story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (based on characters created by Bob Kane)
Directed by Christopher Nolan

The stakes have been raised. The bar has been set. The Dark Knight is now the gold standard for pretty much any genre of film. From Heath Ledger's incredible final performance, to the magnificent stunt work and special effects, to the multi-layered storytelling, The Dark Knight is about as perfect as films get.

So let's start with what everyone will be talking about: Mr. Ledger's last completed work. Would it be as talked about nearly as much if he hadn't sadly passed away earlier this year? Well, when it's this good, I think so. As much as I loved Jack Nicholson's perfectly over-the-top performance in Tim Burton's '89 feature, this is on another level entirely. There's never a moment where you'll think Ledger is giving anything less than his very best. His Joker isn't funny, only sadistic. "Some men only want to watch the world burn," Alfred (Michael Caine) tells Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). And burn things he does: people, piles of money, even hospitals. If this all sounds darker than any previous Batmans (or any comic book movies for that matter), it's because it is.

The Dark Knight barely squeaks by with its PG-13 rating. There's basically no language or blood, but the tone is so murky that no one under, well, 13 should see it. It's that jarring and shocking. But that only adds to the film's mastery. The Nolan brothers have no regard for how well the movie will do with families or how well the toys will sell. They set out to make a brilliant film and that's exactly what they've done.

However, while this is a movie about Batman, the caped crusader is onscreen as much as the diabolical joker, the valiant Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and the hard-working Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). This film leaves so much to marvel at. There are so many directions this film could have gone in, but everything here is perfectly crafted. Like the Joker says, "It's all part of the plan."

And this plan includes more than entertainment. There's modern day moral conundrums, too. Like terrorism, domestic spying, corrupt politicians, and whether or not the truth is the best thing to tell someone. Discussion will abound. There's just so much beyond what would be required of a picture like this. Sure, it's jam-packed, but it's perfectly paced, cast, scored, shot, edited, written, directed, marketed, everything. It'd be nearly impossible to make any improvements.

Bleak as it may be, The Dark Knight proves that any parameters set by convention or past films or studio heads can be broken. And once they're broken, and a writer's imagination can run free, and the possibilities are unlimited. This has what's been created here and however long it's remembered or honored, it will be a touchstone of what bold filmmaking can accomplish. And that's no joke.

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