Like a bat out of hell, The Dark Knight has gotten off to a flying start, grossing over $150 million this weekend, soaring to #1 on imdb’s top 250 (although we know that will fall eventually), and earning a massive critical response that makes good on the hype that has shrouded it for the last several months. So just what is so special about this movie? Let’s take a look at the five best things about this film:
5. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s sceenplay, which weaves together a complex web of multiple storylines without losing the emotional and mental arcs of the principle characters. Yes, the narrative is clever and enthralling, but it’s still the characters we are drawn to. We laugh at their witty asides, gasp at their horrific deeds, and struggle with trying to understand the complicated moral issues that plague their very minds.
4. Gary Oldman gives what I consider to be a career best (so far) in an oft-overshadowed role. I know that the entire cast is brilliant – Eckhart, Bale, Freeman, Caine, and Gylenhaal all deserve commendation – but Oldman’s portrayal of Commissioner Gordon is as earnest and genuine as the most noble of movie heroes. He will likely end up being this year’s Tommy Lee Jones to Heath Ledger’s Javier Bardem.
3. The entire crew has clearly upped the ante from their solid work on Batman Begins. DP Wally Pfister, whose inspired lensing of the film gives it a constant feeling of unease, is likely headed for his third cinematography nomination in four years. Production designer Nathan Crowley has created a Gotham that is of this world and yet not of this world. Lee Smith’s film editing (while at times a bit hyper) never lets the movie lag during its 2.5 hour run-time. The special effects seem truly special in this film (that 18-wheeler chase sequence is simply remarkable filmmaking). Kudos as well to sound editor Richard King and sound mixers Lora Hirschberg, Ed Novick, and Gary Rizzo.
2. Christopher Nolan’s intense direction has made The Dark Knight more of an experience than a movie. He has extracted from his pool of talented people an epic study of the good and evil that resides within the individual, and within society as a whole. Indeed, the picture is not so much about Batman, as it is about the city and its inhabitants for which he must sacrifice everything to protect.
1. Heath Ledger will receive an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor, and not out of sympathy for his untimely death in January. His scene-stealing Joker is full of contradictions and hypocrisy. He is a self-proclaimed “agent of chaos”, believing that the only way to achieve freedom and justice is to embrace anarchy and abandon order. He claims to have no plan. Yet every crime he commits is executed with such precision and detail, it can only be the result of meticulous planning. His unpredictability makes him both hilarious and horrifying at the same time.
When I update the sidebar in a week or so, I won’t have The Dark Knight up for director and picture (like some are suggesting), but I’ll have it waiting in my sixth slot, because it is clearly one of 2008’s best films.
**** / ****