Sunday, July 20, 2008

"The Dark Knight"

2008; directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

If nothing else, The Dark Knight is loud. Throughout its hectic 2-1/2 hours bombs explode, engines roar, glass shatters, cars crash, mobs scream and characters shout at and beyond the top of their lungs. In this respect it's the perfect summer movie for both teenage boys and the hard-of-hearing.

Like all summer blockbusters, The Dark Knight excels in its technical aspects. Fans of special effects, pyrotechnics, sound design and editing, cinematography and sheer volume (in both senses of the word) will certainly leave the theater feeling they got their money's worth.

However, audiences hoping to find a compelling story amidst all the sturm und drang will leave feeling not only cold but confused, since the screenplay is little more than one massive action sequence after another.

In this installment of the series, Gotham has been overrun by organized crime. The mob is involved in a multi-billion dollar corruption ploy in cahoots with the Chinese, Gotham's crooked police force can't be trusted to fight them, and the Joker is stirring it all up -- not for monetary gain, but only because he enjoys the thrill of chaos. (Judging from the results, he surely must have been pleased.) Only Batman and the tough new District Attorney provide any hope for justice. There are several character reversals and double-crosses that seem to come out of left field, some nonsense about Gotham getting the kind of hero it deserves, and a deus ex machina device that brings the whole thing to a close. None of it amounts to much.

I was most interested in seeing the late Heath Ledger's penultimate performance as the Joker, which did not disappoint. He brings an array of vocal and physical techniques to the role that make him the most interesting and entertaining thing in the picture. He commands our attention, controlling every room he enters, filling the screen and literally crowding out the other characters. Even beneath his smeary make-up his face is so expressive, his eyes so quick and intelligent, we can almost see the synapses firing inside his head. One wishes he had not only more scenes in the film, but more roles to come afterward as well.

However, I also think a bit too much has been made of it, with some going so far as to suggest that the performance required such physical and emotional demands that death became the logical result. This is not the case. Ledger does an outstanding job, eclipsing every other actor in the film including Christian Bale, who's been known to suffer for his art as well. Ledger's performance will serve as a thrilling end to a too-short career. But this is not acting to die for.

Let me be honest. It's rare for me to go to any film on its opening weekend, especially one as over-marketed as The Dark Knight. Invariably I sit there in the theater, feeling shoveled in by all the hype, and ultimately walk out wondering why I wasted my time, patience and $9-$10.

The Dark Knight was no different. The film tells us very little about ourselves, and way too much about what Hollywood thinks of us. To quote Shakespeare, it is "a tale of sound and fury... signifying nothing."

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