Friday, August 8, 2008


I'm trying to figure out how to type this review up without unintentionally allowing for some really bad Two-face puns. You see, I'm of two minds about The Dark Knight.
Shall we get the unhappy half out of the way first?
This film has some problems: The plot is way, way too cluttered. There's a lot of elements that show up for only tangential reasons, and do little to actually advance the story. They're really just Nolan and co. showing off how very clever they are. But really, five minutes after you step out of the theater you'll be hard pressed to remember exactly what they were or why they happened or how they were supposedly important to the plot. On the other hand, important bits of information are not only off-screen, but almost totally unexplained. I suppose some of that was to heighten our sense of surprise when the events came to light, but in my mind it really cheapened things - how can I fully admire an evil genius when I don't know how those evil deeds were set up? I like knowing the little details of how things were accomplished, even if it's well after the fact, and this movie cheats. Often. Perhaps they thought that with all the stuff going on on screen that an audience wouldn't have the patience or ability to follow, but really, it is a cheap and lazy way of film making. I think a little more careful editing, or another once-over of the script could have pushed this film into a higher class. I put all the blame for this on Nolan, who can be elegant and complex and masterful, but I don't think has reached the level of control where he can maintain it throughout an entire film. He exercised the most control over Memento (in my mind, still his best film) but has gotten a little slipshod and careless since The Prestige (which I found beautiful, wonderful, and ultimately unsatisfying.) I'd like him to start making his plots a bit more spare, which I think would make him control these elements better. It's not as deep or meaningful as they're pretending, and I wish they'd either rewritten it to make is what it promised to be, or relaxed a little and let it flow a little more . . .It seems like they're still relying on the tricks he used in Memento and The Prestige, but they're not always appropriate or necessary here. Ultimately, all this does is make everything seem less urgent, immediate, and emotionally involving (with a very important caveat.)
Fight scenes are horrible, horrible, horribly - muddy, poorly shot, and muddled. I felt nauseous during a few of them from all the jerky camera movement. I know this sort of footage is very much in vogue, but it is time to cut it out. It had origins in the need to portray how a fight actually feels to the participants (Rocky does an admirable job of doing just this) but since we're not really being asked to identify with our protagonists in this very intimate way, it's just annoying. Even in the still images of the comic book, you're often given some sense of the choreography of the fight. You know who punches and how and in what direction and to what effect. Dark Knight has nothing but jerky camera movement and blur and the faint need to upchuck. Just the other week had a marvelous slide show about just that problem. . .
I hate to say this, but I'm getting more and more disappointed in Bale's Batman. As Bruce Wayne, he's not too shabby - debonair and frightfully handsome. But I don't think the Bruce/Bat balance is quite right. Honestly (looks left, looks right, dodges tomatoes) I really thought that Keaton's performance did a better job in connecting those two personalities while making it believable that other people around him couldn't. I wish they'd left this Batman just a tad more Lamont Cranston-ish in his Bruce, it would fit better with this incarnation of Batman. As for him as Batman . . . well, I find the faux bass growl they use for him distracting and wooden. I'd rather have a mute Batman. Can't they find something less artificial? I snickered every time he said more than two words together. Met has posted a wonderful bit of youtube fun about that here.
Eckhart is a bit weak in his role, but I blame a lot of that on the cluttered script not devoting enough time to his story arch. It should be at the very heart of the film, but it really gets shunted to the side a little too often to really work the way it ought. He really isn't given as much to do with his character and role as he needed. I'm torn here, because the end of his story arch should have much, much more impact than it does. But in all fairness, it's not really his fault . . .
What to say about Gyllanhaal? I adore her, and she's such an amazing step up from that nothing actress Holmes that of course I want to embrace her moxie laden performance that turns Dawes into something more than a doe-eyed do-gooder. But she's so wasted in this role! The actress is worthy, but there's nothing for her to do with all of it. The script for Dawes is just as bland and boring that Holmes actually suited the role better. Gyllanhaal just has too much umph for her. Actually, she's got too much umph for Bruce or Dent in this little triangle,but little chemistry with either. I hardly cared who she chose to be with, she was too good for either.
Oldman is just what he ought be for Gordon, and Caine and Freedman are, as usual, magnificent. Really, I don't need Batman . . . I could just sit around and listen to Alfred and Fox sit around and plot things on Batman's behalf all day long. Even when their dialog is pretentious and over the top you swallow every word they say because they are the masters of this kind of thing. I would, without question, believe anything Freedman told me as Lucius Fox, including tri-weave titanium dipped diapers. And if Alfred is warning you about something? That's as close as gospel as you're going to get. They're both such delights!
But what really, really makes this movie?
Good God. Heath Ledger scared me witless. When he's on screen, it's like watching an entirely different movie. He owns this film, and every second he's not on screen is a second wasted. Audiences were justifiably horrified by his Joker. And not once during the movie will you think the least bit of the divergences from the comic book, nor fleetingly remember Jack Nicholson's Joker from the 1989 film. This Joker appears to emerge whole and entire, a living, breathing thing of such utter evil . . . well, I just don't have the superlatives to describe his work here. He's also wickedly, terrifyingly funny. You'll feel evil laughing along with it, but laugh you will - even at silly, throwaway lines that have nothing funny about them. Ledger gets a big laugh out of just saying, "yeah" at one point. But as soon as the Joker exits the film, so does audience interest. Dent, Gordon, Batman . . . they're all so frightfully dull compared to the Joker! Without this manic, incredible villain, the film just goes slack. I know I'm not saying anything here that anybody else hasn't said, but it's a big revelation. After years of seeing tepid, boring, pretty boy stuff from Ledger, I'd thought that his performance in Brokeback Mountain was a fluke. It wasn't. This man had some serious craft.
So go see Dark Knight. Spend the 10,000원 to see it in IMAX (the action scenes filmed in this format, unlike the fight scenes, are marvelous - some as crisp and clean as the film format itself) and try not to close your eyes too much while Ledger is on screen.

In a somewhat related side story . . . it's so embarrassing to go see American-made films here sometimes. I'm always laughing at jokes that nobody else in the theater seems to realize are there. My laugh is loud enough to attract attention, and distinctive enough for people who know me to figure out where I am. Once I was sent into hysterics by a line in Ratatouille ("We hate to be rude, but after all, we are French!") only to find that I was the only person in the theater laughing at all. This time it was even more embarrassing, because not only was I the only person laughing, the things I laughed at were the same things that at first sight are pretty damn horrifying. The "disappearing pencil trick" is monstrous the first time, but funny the second. Well, my second viewing was most people's first, so I looked like a homicidal maniac.


Brian said...

I had been looking forward to this for like a year, but I think living in Korea and not really paying attention to the trailers and the build-up (and everything that went on around Ledger's death) made the movie's premiere kind of sneak up on me. I enjoyed it the first time I saw it, and I went and saw it a second time when I came back to Korea. You're right that there are some parts that don't fit, and I think the rise and fall of Two Face was done far too quickly.

That said I liked the movie and will get it on DVD once it comes out. It makes Batman Begins look pretty flimsy, although it was a huge step up from the previous franchise. Joker was awesome and it goes without saying that Heath Ledger will be missed. I'm sure everyone is wondering how his performance would have been received had he not died before the movie came out.

Interesting blog by the way. I just came across it a couple days ago when you left a comment. I only "knew" you from Feetman Seoul.

Gomushin Girl said...

Wow, that anyone would remember me at all is astounding!
I'm already queuing up to buy the DVD. Although I think the movie is flawed, you're right in that it's a huge step up from the previous Batman films (although I reserve a part of my heart for the '89 version) and a good film overall.
I think Ledger's Joker would have gotten similar acclaim had he not died - it's really an amazing performance in and of itself. I think it's more than everything is tinged with sadness and regret knowing that we'll never get another performance like it again. I think there are probably a lot of people like me, who only really started to appreciate his acting skill after it was too late . . . he was wonderful in Brokeback, but because it was one of very few serious pieces available for evaluation it was easy to dismiss him. Had he lived, I think he would have had a career similar to other very handsome and occasionally gifted actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. They're both actors who are capable of excellent work, but have had streaks of what I think is just pure laziness where they let their leading man looks carry them through sub par productions. At any rate, I think the performance was more than thrilling enough to generate the buzz even had Ledger not died.