There’s a lot of talk these days about Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight, and while it’s certainly deserving it’s only one part of the masterpiece that is director Christopher Nolan’s newest installment in the Batman Franchise. To say that the film’s a piece of something beyond it’s scope almost diminishes it, because as a singular whole there’s so much right about this film, there’s actually nothing at all wrong with it. But even to say that is doing it a disservice.
To start at the beginning. This is the the best plotted and written script (written by both Christopher and his brother Jonathon Nolan) I’ve seen since North by Northwest and Chinatown. In every scene there is conflict. Every character, major or minor, has to make a decision based on what they think is right and they are forced to live with the decisions they make. And those decisions not only further the story but add emotional depth to everyone’s character. Do you know how difficult that is to do in a movie? And the brothers make it look easy.
This attention to character detail allows every moment of this film to draw you further and further into its intricate web. It’s almost too much to take in on a first viewing. Every scene unfolds and reveals a layer to the story or the characters that was not present before, and every character from beginning to end changes. Even Batman is allowed to question himself, grow and change.
The movie itself is like watching something cyclical slowly unravel. There’s a chaotic heart beating at the center, and that center is Joker. This mystery. This slow burn of fury and evil. And not knowing where he comes from only adds to the prevailing fear that I felt as an audience member. At one point in the film, while Batman is fighting off some rabid dogs, Joker unleashes a torrent of blows with metal pipes upon him. It’s frightening, the brutality that lies at the Joker’s center. He has no honor. He has no law. Like an artist, he merely has a keen purpose to leave his mark upon the world, and similar to Batman, we’re trying to find out what his end goal is, or if he even has one. God save us all.
Though it’s Ledger’s keenly orchestrated performance that draws you into his world, it’s not only Ledger’s performance. It’s the words he’s given to say. Nolan’s camera catches him at oblique angles. There’s a scene in an interrogation room in which the shadows seem to crawl across his face. The actors use their full vocal range, digging into their lows and releasing their highs, Ledger’s voice lingers even after he’s done speaking. There’s a sense of dread in the film that, as the Joker’s threat becomes more real, is echoed by the film itself.
This is also seen in Hans Zimmer and Jame’s Newton Howard’s score. In Batman Begins it was so intrusive it became abusive at times. Here it’s spot on. From the stringed section a drone spills forth. You wonder if it’s something from inside the theatre at first, but it grows, and you feel yourself becoming immersed in this unsettling build of music. You know something bad is going to happen. Really bad.
It’s a testament to everyone involved in the making of this film that they’ve created one of the most believably disturbed and realistically frightening villains to grace the movie theatres since A Clockwork Orange.
The editing is tremendous; defining action and characters so effortlessly.
And what of the other performances. Flawless. Aaron Eckhardt plays Harvey Dent/Two Face with the growing rage of man who is losing control of the world around him. Maggie Gyllenhaal, torn by a lingering love that she’s too afraid to let go of because she knows the ramifications could be great. Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, both willing to go as far as they can to protect Bruce Wayne’s decision to be Batman and what Batman stands for – but one only to a point, and one beyond reason (burning down a jungle!) Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Gordon trusts Batman and yet doubts at times if he should. And then there’s Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne.
Bale, like Ledger is a phenomenon, an actor that digs so deep into his role that you’re no longer watching Bale on screen. This is Bruce Wayne showing up at his own party late with four women on his arms. This is Batman figuring out what he should mean to the people of Gotham. This is Christian Bale deserving of an Oscar nomination. This is Ledger and Nolan deserving of nominations.
And kudos to Nolan for grabbing the best of the B-actors out there. In the first film it was the wonderful Rutger Hauer. Now he’s brought Eric Roberts into the foray. Great actors that have been given a dog’s bone in Hollywood and deserve better.
This is a rousing, frightening, sad and heartfelt movie. One that like Silence of the Lambs digs into the psychology of it’s characters. As a sequel like few sequels before (Sanjuro, Aliens, Empire Strikes Back) it takes what the first film layed out and adds so much more depth to something you didn’t think could have more depth and so many new angles to something you felt had been worn at the edges, and right before you it becomes more than a movie but the mythology that’s it’s meant to be, a pop cultural milestone. This is what it means to be a hero in our day and age. This is not just what Gotham is looking for, but the film going public needs in a hero. A hero that will be whatever it needs him to be. That sort of sacrifice is actually worth something in this day and age.
This film will be talked about for it’s brilliant Joker, but remembered as a brilliant film.
Tags: A Clockwork Orange, Aaron Eckhardt, Aliens, Batman, Christian Bale, Comissioner Gordon, Eric Roberts, Gary Oldman, Harvey Dent, Heath Ledger, Lucius Fox, Maggie Gyllenhall, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Sanjuro, The Dark Knight, The Joker, Two Face