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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Dark Knight

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Rarely does a wildly anticipated film live up to its hype. The inevitable backlash happens with the first advance screening, when purists decry the bastardization of their favorite superhero, meticulously researched and studied from youth to present day.

The Dark Knight bucks this trend magnificently. The number one “buzz” film of the summer is an intelligent, merciless, explosive film, shot at a quicksilver pace with a multi-layered plot and first rate ensemble cast.

Public opinion has turned against Batman (Christian Bale), who’s been perceived as a vigilante. There are even roaming gangs of Batman impersonators taking on crime in cheap costumes with disastrous consequences. All this does nothing to endear the Caped Crusader to Gotham’s good citizens.

Batman shares the stage here with some equally compelling characters. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is Gotham City’s legal recourse to thugs and a growing criminal element led by Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts). Police Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is the ultimate good cop and crime target, as is Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) Bruce Wayne/Batman’s former main squeeze, now hooked up with Dent.

Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) and scientist advocate Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) are back in small but important roles. You’ll be introduced to the Bat-Pod with its monster truck wheels. Wayne hopes to win Dawes back after he hangs up his Bat gear, a kind of abdication to Dent’s White Knight, squeaky clean image. In fact, a recurring message in the film is that heroes like Batman might be what Gotham needs, but not what the city wants. (Hancock, anyone)? Batman is content to be the misunderstood, sacrificial lamb to further Dent’s canonization, eschewing any credit for himself out of the pursuit of a nobler purpose. (Green Hornet, anyone)?

After a failed alliance with Hong Kong crime kingpin Lau (Chin Han), Maroni’s criminal minions reluctantly team up with The Joker (Heath Ledger) to wreak havoc and maneuver literally a wall of money away from businesses and financial institutions.

Amoral, vicious, and oh, so happy about it, the Joker may be the purest, true-to-self character in the entire film. He’ll burn his half of the money in front of his cohorts to prove that he’s in the game for something else entirely: revealing Batman’s true identity. When he’s not busy murdering indiscriminately – even his own henchman, The Joker’s on the trail of the city’s do-gooders, preferring a knife to a gun so that he can better “savor the moment” of dispatch.

Batman uses his martial arts training on the bad guys, flies through and around skyscrapers of Gotham on his para-glider batwings, and roars through streets in his Bat-Pod. Wayne Manor has been replaced by a penthouse and the Bat Cave is now housed in one super high-tech parking garage.

Throughout the course of the film, Dent undergoes a dubious epiphany, Batman engages in hand to hand combat on multiple occasions, Lucius Fox begins to have moral objections to his assignments, Lt. Jim Gordon proves what a crusading unsung hero he’s capable of being, and The Joker rises to new heights of depravity. This guy’s even dangerous locked up in a jail cell. Then there are the explosions, vehicle crashes, split-second executions and macabre plot twists that await you. Even at its 2 ½ hour running time, there are duplicitous schemes at every turn. You may very well need more than one viewing to take it all in.

Writer/Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige) co-wrote the script with brother Jonathan and a story credit goes to David S. Goyer (Jumper).
Cinematographer Wally Pfister shot on location in Chicago, my hometown, and natives will revel at the sight of lower Wacker Drive, The Chicago River and LaSalle Street. Six sequences were shot using IMAX cameras.

The Dark Knight has already broken the record for a midnight film opening, (over 18 million dollars) surpassing Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Christian Bale is outstanding in both roles, embodying the conflict and moral quandaries within each. Aaron Eckhart matches Bale in integrity but is not even close to Ledger in depravity. Maggie Gyllenhaal is weak as the love interest for the two good guys, a mere distraction and devoid of romantic chemistry with either of them. Dent and Wayne wax poetic and pine for her, yet we don’t know what they’re talking about. Gary Oldman is restrained and convincing as the morally incorruptible law man. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are voices of wisdom and credibility in a world gone mad.

I am in hyperbolic, awe-struck, jaw dropping amazement over Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance as The Joker, made all the more poignant by his sudden demise. With black, soulless eyes full of mischief and psychotic humor, wedged into a smeared white mask of randomly applied zinc oxide, Ledger’s Joker is a dangerously exciting original – from his red slash of a grin to greasy tumbleweed hair and snakelike tongue subject to flickering tics. "I choose chaos," says the Joker, and boy, do we believe him, thanks to Ledger’s superlative screen presence.

This is Ledger’s final completed performance. He was filming Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus at the time of his death.

The Nolan brothers (and Warner Bros.) have delivered a satisfyingly dark, violent yet thoughtful effort, a proper if somewhat turbulent legacy for the Bob Kane creation.

To paraphrase the famous Khalil Gibran passage. “Do not go gentle into this Dark Knight.” It’s no place for a Robin at all.