This is re-post from July 18th, 2008 in anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises in theaters July 20. Running time for The Dark Knight Rises is approximately 2 hours and 44 minutes. Will Christopher Nolan be able to entertain us for that kind of duration? Or Will Nolan do something out of the ordinary like split The Dark Knight Rises into two films like his guru Stanley Kubrick did in Full Metal Jacket (1987)? Or can we expect a complex labyrinth of clock-eating diversion and shell games like we experienced in Nolan’s Inception (2010)? The Batman films have a history of multiple villains tag-teaming against our hero…in addition to Tom Hardy’s Bane, could we also see a villain like The Riddler? Tune in next week. Same Bat Channel. Same Bat Time.
The Dark Knight: Masks and Make-Up
12:30 AM and nearly ten screenings were sold out at Regal Cinemas 16 at Atlantic Station. Eight concession lines were open, each about twenty people deep waiting to buy popcorn and soda. The next available tickets were for the 2:40 AM showing, and they wouldn't stop until 4:15 AM. Did Heath Ledger’s death bring this on? Were we all here to see his last performance and see if it really was Oscar worthy? Let me just put it this way, I can’t remember ever going to see a Batman movie at midnight. And I haven’t seen a turnout at the movie theater like this since maybe the Star Wars prequels.
The film opens like a shot out of Koyaanisqatsi. The buzzing background sound of what could surely be a faulty fluorescent light bulb travels with the camera toward a building’s corporate looking windows before one of the panes busts with an explosion. And this is how The Dark Knight begins, and continues on, roughing your senses like sandpaper to your skin; the underlying musical score is almost like the Jaws theme on valium. It is quiet and almost sterile then sneaks up on you and takes a bite, usually with intense explosion filled scenes, when you least expect it.
But I’m only here to see Ledger. I couldn’t care about anything else, really. I wasn’t expecting any great story and wasn’t really looking for one, either, quite frankly. Just another Batman movie (albeit a better one like Batman Begins rather than Batman Returns).
Ledger in a bulked up purple coat and an updated wardrobe underneath, a green streak here and there plus a little argyle and stripes to kind of underpin the clown motif, hops and limps his way across the screen, his voice sounding like a mixed bag of Andy Rooney, Paul Lynde, Liberace, and Michael Moore. He stays in character so consistently well with almost a Midwestern accent and sloppy lick of his lips like he just stepped out of the dentist’s chair that you forget he’s from Australia. And you forget that you’ve ever seen him before. In Ten Things I Hate About You, or A Knight’s Tale, Casanova, The Patriot, or even as the surfer skateboard manager Skip in Lords of Dogtown. That Heath Ledger with the mess of fringy hair and the boyish face is an unsuspecting victim lost like so many of the people of Gotham, to the uncontrollable whirlwind of death games the Joker likes to play, adds an ominous, frightening dimension to this performance. That and the fact that it’s almost alarming to see Batman or any other character punch, kick, or bust up Ledger’s character. Remembering that it is Ledger behind the make-up.
As The Dark Knight progresses into chaos, and length, one can’t help but think of Chris Nolan’s other long movie, Insomnia. That other movie that never seemed to end. Like the Wachowski brothers, Jonathan and Christopher Nolan could probably do better directing other people’s scripts. Instead, they take on what surely is 200 plus of their own pages (a page a minute) filled with Joker games and double crosses and who’s who and what’s what, and this guy did that and now that guy’s doing this, and that guy’s stealing the money, and there’s a bomb hidden—all a childish weave of complications and intrigue we are manipulated into caring about, but that we should really care nothing about. If you just take a second during the second hour of The Dark Knight to ask yourself why am I watching this, and why do I care, you’ll have a hard time finding an answer. Yes, there is Heath Ledger, in a performance that may not be Oscar worthy but is the best bit of acting he’s ever done. And there is also the anticipation of greatness, a great story maybe, from The Dark Knight that fails to meet our craving. But as the film progresses, if that is what it seems to be doing, you discover there is no caring for Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne or anyone else in this movie except for maybe Lucius Fox played by Morgan Freeman. If you are a sniveling little bastard of a character in this or any Morgan Freeman movie, Freeman will look you in the eye, say two maliciously smart words and have you peeing your pants out of fear or feeling self-conscious and small at just how correct he is about your innermost loser character. While at the time possessing the power to lift your spirits with a smile.
The Joker ironically has the smarts to be a master planner. He concocts explosive and deadly games throughout the city, often times plotting man against man, neighbor against neighbor, just for the entertainment of watching the city go berserk and his home-made bombs explode.
Batman comes to the rescue on several occasions, but he’s not always on screen. We go through some political babbling and big city bureaucracy and finger pointing about crime and what the mayor, the police, and district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are doing about it. We see the origins of another Batman nemesis, and we see one of the greatest actors in the business—Gary Oldman—do his cop under pressure bit, fearing for the life of his loved ones, and trying to be a friend to both Batman and the city officials who think Batman is a vigilante criminal that is more harm that help.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays love interest to Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent. She is forever doing her 'no crap from you while I could care less' look while at the same time giving you her best baby doll turn of the head like Kirsten Dunst. You just want to pinch Maggie’s cheeks they’re so full and plump. She’s a better Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes, stronger, more believable as the female lead (even if they both have what could be called a cookie face--doughy and about to melt if the heat gets too high). Maggie doesn't have as good a script or direction as she had in Stranger Than Fiction, but she is the best girlfriend Batman has ever had.
This early in the morning, or late in the evening, after midnight, is actually a good time to see The Dark Knight because it is quite dark and ghoulish, nightmarish throughout. The photography is monochromatic, blue and gray. The only color is the macabre red paint of the Joker’s smile. “Why do they call him the Joker,” Hench Man 1 in a mask asks in the beginning. “He wears make-up, to scare people,” says Hench Man 2. “Like war paint.” It’s a shame the focus goes out when the camera gets close to Ledger in a few intense interrogation scenes, but otherwise the production is solid. Dark, but solid. And the film holds up well in the dark. It is after all called The Dark Knight. But flares in the lens when you don’t mean them to be, and focus out of whack when you want it to be at its most clear, do just as much to steal from the film’s quality as dolly moves into close-ups, special effects, and the most awesome Batmobile scenes to date do to create that sense of amazement.
There are some references to wiretapping and spying on “30 million people.” Bale, or Batman, talks like Clint Eastwood on steroids. In fact all the men in the film grow seriously rough tonsils when they’re angered or just trying to be tough. There’s so much throaty dialogue in The Dark Knight I emptied my medium size drink for the first time in years feeling what had to be the thirstiest script of words I’ve heard since my last Merchant Ivory film. Like I just ate spoonfuls of salt and sang every song at an Old 97’s concert, trying to be louder than the band, and no drink in the world is going to quench that thirst.
There was applause at the end of The Dark Knight, and I don’t think there should have been. Maybe applause for finally reaching the end. But I will say there was applause, too, every time Ledger walked on to or exited screen. And that’s the way it should have been.
The Dark Knight is forty million gazillion trillion minutes long. Rated PG-13 for mild violence and long lines. But should break every record ever held for an opening weekend.
NOTE: Prior to The Dark Knight, they rolled the best set of trailers I think I’ve ever seen: a longer look at Tropic Thunder; the new installment of The Mummy; a fascinating new film by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardner) called Blindness; a DC comics movie from the graphic novel Watchmen: Terminator Salvation with Christian Bale as John Connor in a 4th installment of Terminator; and a Ridley Scott movie called Body of Lies starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
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