Thursday, 22 July 2010

My Favourite Film Of All Time - #1 - THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) *****

"Welcome to a world without rules"

Having officially opened my film criticism blog with Christopher Nolan's heist epic INCEPTION (2010), I decided to begin a Best Of My Favourite Films series with perhaps Nolan's best film, THE DARK KNIGHT. High expectations were made back in 2007 when production began on the film following the critical success of Nolan's first edition of the Batman franchise, BATMAN BEGINS (2005). It had helped revive the series eight years after Joel Schumacher's BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) had flopped. What Begins did right was take away the comical and colourful outlook of the previous films and instead opting for a more gritty tone as well as being backed up by a consistent script by Nolan's younger brother Jonathan. The new-look cast including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman had also attracted mass crowds with not many people expecting to see these established actors in a superhero film. But its status as the best Batman film wasn't to last long....

In this installment of the franchise, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) continues to tackle the thugs of Gotham City from committing crimes as his alter-ego Batman which leads to the mobsters backing down. Gotham's protection is made more assured by the recent appointment of district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who joins forces with Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to keep Gotham at peace. Unfortunately as the last scene in Batman Begins teased, a new villain is in town. This individual is of course, The Joker (played in maniacal and riveting form by the late Heath Ledger) who pulls no punches but does produce many tricks that associate with his representation. Watch his pencil trick moment and you can't help but applaud the sheer genius of Ledger's portayal of the character. The Joker's aim is to cause mayhem in the city e.g. going through many of the major cops and attempting to assassinate the major of Gotham in the parade sequence. He is a crazed man which he wouldn't admit in the film but is clearly disturbed with Ledger having based his role as the Joker on Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971). The haunting performance by Ledger, months after his tragic death from a drug overdose earlier that year made him become acclaimed as well as even emulating Jack Nicholson's superb OTT role as the same character in Tim Burton's version of BATMAN (1988). This was further added by how loved he was particularly in Hollywood which saw him storm through the awards seasons before comfortably winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, picked up by his family and being the perfect end to Ledger's career, so tragically lost at a young age who was able to be remembered for his talent.

Nonetheless in the film, The Joker's significant aim is to confront Batman and attempt to defuse him with repetitive sayings and wanting to make him break rules such as finally revealing his true identity. As Michael Caine's character Alfred says to Bruce Wayne later in the film, some men just want to watch the world burn, a case in which Joker does not want it all for wealth but to see society tear itself apart. Bruce's conscience about finishing his role as Batman is further pushed by his love for his childhood friend Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is dating Harvey Dent. She persists in Bruce giving up the Batman duty but following a tragic twist in the film, he then realises that he has to go very far to try and avenge the situation and stop the Joker from creating more tyranny. However complications are made when Dent who has helped Batman throughout the film is brainwashed by the Joker to take vengeance on those responsible for this same incident which has now seen him scarred and earning the nickname 'Two-Face', this forcing him to confront cops including Gordon in the build-up to the film's climax. And after the film's bittersweet ending with Batman having to go on the run from the police only adds to the internal struggle and sacrifices that he has to take in order to avoid having one character's reputation being damaged, as Gordon tells his son in the epilogue about him being a dark knight.

What Christopher Nolan gets right with this sequel is that from when the trailer of the film was first released to the Oscar success for Ledger, the hype surrounding this film became uncontrollable and thus made it become of the great sequels of recent times just like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and GODFATHER PART II. Firstly the acting side is beneficial and having spent a large paragraph in awe of Ledger's performance, kudos must also go to Aaran Eckhart who is almost as good with his role as a major figure in Gotham threatened by The Joker before he too is corrupted by the depths of society through his transformation to Two-Face. Gary Oldman also adds warmth to his reprisal as Jim Gordon whose role in trying to protect Gotham is also in endangered when Two-Face takes his family hostage. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are not given much to do in the film other than lend advice to Bruce Wayne with his attempts to save Gotham but their acting experience is key to the film's appeal to great actors being in the franchise. If there is slight criticism towards the film for me was Bale's gruff attempt to make Batman sound intimidating but as I pointed out with the Batman Begins part, it doesn't deter the secrecy of Wayne's character, while Maggie Gyllenhaal, while a talented and underrated actress doesn't really add much to what Katie Holmes did in the first film, hence my belief that Emily Blunt or Rachel McAdams would have been better casted in the role.

From the very first shot of this film, Wally Pfster's glorious camera set-up (perfection to watch in the IMAX) shows us a shining building in Gotham City which within a few seconds, lets off a small explosion that introduces us to the henchmen of the film's villain who most people (including my fellow long-suffering uni film buffs) wouldn't miss a mile off. The first several minutes puts the audience through an exhilarating focus on these henchmen attempting to pull off the perfect heist in a major bank but despite their success in getting things done in order, they end up bumping each other off before the introduction of The Joker himself. That becomes the pinnacle for what we are about to watch for the next two hours and fifteen minutes. The film is gloriously shot in dark visual beauty to highlight the grittiness of the film's setting and does well not to use much CGI to make it more action-packed. Many scenes steal the film such as the exhilarating freeway sequence with the truck spinning in the air, the crucial set-up from the Joker to put pressure on Batman involving two ships with innocent people on one ship and dangerous criminals on the other (which one to save and which one to destroy) and the prison cell encounter where both minds go head to head in stirring dialogue and physical confrontation. It is also cleverly edited to add to the fast-flowing tension of the film's dynamic story which adds to the quality in which it is made, while Hans Zimmer's musical score shared with James Newton Howard gives a stirring advantage of also highlighting the tension of the film e.g. the Joker gatecrashing Bruce Wayne's party.

 Overall The Dark Knight truly is a modern masterpiece that excites and wows those who watch it, from beginning to end, it makes us appreciate the superhero genre even more and gives a dark feel to how we can enjoy an action film without the CGI spectacle but having to be in awe of the characters, the acting, the technicality of it and the set-pieces. I watched it twice in the cinema, the first time at the IMAX with my dad on the opening day and we, as well as the rest of the young audience were captivated by its sheer splendor, it is one of the most quotable films possible and if a third film is eventually made then it will hopefully show that the dawn is coming with how masterful it will be. It will certainly put smiles on a lot of people's faces!


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