Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
|Featuring:||Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy, more »|
“Batman Begins,” “Memento,” “The Prestige”
|Distributor:||Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures|
“Welcome to a world without rules.”
Whether you are an avid fan of the Batman franchise, a casual summer moviegoer, or someone curious about the performance of a young actor gone far too soon, rest assured, you will not leave the theater disappointed. You will, however, likely leave the theater mesmerized by a film, and a performance, that will be talked about for a very long time to come.
With director Christopher Nolan once again at the helm, “The Dark Knight” picks up pretty much where “Batman Begins” left off. However, with the story of Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the Caped Crusader taken care of in the first film, Nolan throws us right into the action this time and doesn’t let up for the film’s two-and-a-half hour running time.
As the film opens, the criminals of Gotham City are facing an enemy as intimidating as Batman in District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who makes strong efforts to rid the city of the filth it has become accustomed to. Batman has slowed down his crime fighting efforts, due in large part to copy-bats who attempt to imitate his style. The public is in an uproar, believing these phony heroes are actually causing more harm than good. Batman, they deduce, must be the responsible party and therefore demand him captured and “demasked” to put an end to the vigilante brand of crime fighting. But one person in particular is extra keen on the idea of Batman revealing his true identity, and has made it his goal to see that it happens.
We are introduced to this man, The Joker (Heath Ledger), nearly right away, as he orchestrates a multi-faceted bank heist with a chilling nonchalance. It means very little to him to take the lives of his victims, or his henchmen for that matter, and he leaves a long trail of bodies in his wake. As the crime bosses of Gotham feel the heat coming from three different sources—Batman, Harvey Dent, and Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman)—they are forced to seek the help of The Joker, who is more than willing to take on Gotham’s finest single-handedly. What makes The Joker a far more dangerous villain than any Gotham has ever seen is the way he appears to fly by the seat of his purple pants, but has strung together an ingenious, diabolical master plan that will test the resolve, and dedication, of everyone who hopes to stop him. The Joker isn’t out to gain anything in particular, which makes him all the more terrifying. As Batman’s trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine) warns, 'Some men just want to see the world burn.'
The content of “The Dark Knight” is far darker than the already bleak “Batman Begins,” and Christian parents should use caution in whether or not to allow children or younger, impressionable teenagers to see the film. The violence is heavy handed, and far more ruthless than in the original. Frankly, The Joker makes The Scarecrow from “Batman Begins” look like a Saturday morning amateur. The Joker maims and kills without remorse, and one of the very first scenes features a “disappearing pencil” trick that is stunning in its quick brutality. The mood is dreary, which we expect from Batman movies, but Harvey Dent explains to us “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Well, the rising sun is still a long way off for Gotham, and caution is urged for parents wondering whether to expose their children to that darkness. There is very little profanity in the film, much less than the first film, and practically no sexual content (some women are seen lounging in their bathing suits on Bruce’s boat, but the camera is on them for a minuscule amount of time), but the violence more than makes up for what other content is left out.
The film hits on all sorts of different spiritual topics, and I could probably write a dissertation on them all. I won’t get in to everything here, for the simple fact that doing so will reveal specific plot twists and developments that I don’t intend to spoil. Suffice it to say, themes of sacrifice, redemption, fear, selfishness, revenge, and the basic sinfulness of man all present themselves in the film, along with a various host of other. Characters are forced to choose who lives and dies, while others are forced to decide whether to continue fighting evil when it seems like nothing will work, or simply giving in and joining the forces of evil. Each character has their own world cave in around them, and each must persevere, or be sucked into the maelstrom.
The performances in the film are basically great all around. Christian Bale matures a little this time around as Batman, and his Batman is devastatingly human, with real feelings and reactions we might not be used to seeing from our “superheroes.” The supporting cast of Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes (originally played in “Batman Begins” by Katie Holmes) is uniformly good. Eckhart was an interesting choice as Harvey Dent, and while he is fine in the role, I am not quite sure he was the best choice. As the film winds down, his character experiences changes, both physically and psychologically (in his case they go hand in hand) and becomes something completely unlike Eckhart’s nice guy persona. Had he been given more time to develop his characters (which, granted, was not his fault), my misgivings about his casting would likely have been nonexistent.
But “The Dark Knight” doesn’t belong to Bale’s Batman or any of the other afore-mentioned characters. This is The Joker’s movie, and boy does he run with it. Of course, the hype surrounding the film has centered on the performance of Heath Ledger, who died earlier this year from an accidental prescription drug overdose. I suppose many will be morbidly drawn in to seeing the film simply to view the role that supposedly drove Ledger into depression, but people should go just to see a performance that they won’t be able to shake from their minds for quite a while. The word that kept popping in to my head to describe Ledger’s performance as I watched the film was “mesmerizing,” and that doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. It is unfair to compare Ledger’s Joker with Jack Nicholson's in the original Batman, because they required two totally different approaches. Nicholson’s was tailor-made for the campy style director Tim Burton was going for, and had Nicholson taken the approach Ledger did in this one, it simply would not have worked. And vice versa. But that’s where the genius of “The Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan (who co-wrote the screenplay with brother Jonathan Nolan) is evident. He gave Ledger free reign to dig deep in to his character, and bring out the true essence of The Joker. Let’s face it, a man who basically wears a clown suit and goes around ruthlessly killing people is at the very least deranged, and at most purely demonic, but not at all campy. Ledger toes the line between sadistic mastermind and homicidal lunatic, with a skill that gives you genuine chills. I haven’t seen a performance like this since Anthony Hopkins made Hannibal Lecter a household name so many years ago. Ledger uses everything at his disposal, from that creepy accent to lip-smacking facial tics, to create a character that would have lived on well after Ledger, even if he had lived a long, full life.
As I watched “The Dark Knight,” which is a summer movie like we have never seen before, or may ever see again, I could not shake the feeling of sadness I got watching Heath Ledger. His death, like so many others, came far too soon, and left a void not only in Hollywood, but in a family who loved him dearly as a son and a brother.It can be difficult to see these stars as real people, but tragedy always finds a way to bring that truth painfully home. One of the many things I love about this Web site is that on the main page every day it gives Christians a few names to pray for every single day, that God would touch the lives of celebrities in a way only He can. We often pray for our church, state, and national leaders, and rightfully so, but so frequently we neglect to pray for those we invite in to our homes every time we rent one of their movies, or who we visit each time we head out to the theaters. These people influence so many others, young and old alike, and we forget to pray that God will work in their lives and use their talents for His glory. But, as Heath Ledger sadly proved, Hollywood stars desperately need hope, the hope that can only come from a relationship with Christ. I urge all Christians to pray for Hollywood, for each and every performer they see, and to never stop. We may not be able to personally intervene, when a celebrity is plunging headfirst into a downward spiral that may claim their life, but we certainly know the One who can.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.