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Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

Starring: Christian Bale ... Bruce Wayne / Batman

Michael Caine ... Alfred Pennyworth

Heath Ledger ... The Joker

Aaron Eckhart ... Harvey Dent

Maggie Gyllenhaal ... Rachel Dawes

Gary Oldman ... Lt. James Gordon

Morgan Freeman ... Lucius Fox

Eric Roberts ... Salvatore Maroni

Cillian Murphy ... Dr. Jonathan Crane / The Scarecrow

Anthony Michael Hall ... Mike Engel

Monique Curnen ... Det. Ramirez

Nestor Carbonell ... Mayor

Joshua Harto ... Reese

Michael Jai White ... Gamble

Colin McFarlane ... Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb

The Dark Knight The Dark Knight
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Synopsis: "The Dark Knight" reunites director Christopher Nolan with star Christian Bale, who returns to continue Batman's war on crime. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as the Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces the Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.

Review:  by Chris Knight, National Post

The weather in Gotham City this summer is dark and overcast. This is perfect, not only to set the ominous tone of the latest Batman film but to give police Lieutenant Gordon somewhere to shine the Bat Signal. He's got it raking the underbelly of the clouds almost every night, although he admits Batman doesn't always respond; often, the caped crusader is already busy fighting another crime.

Traffic is foreboding, too, what with trucks tumbling tractor over trailer and drive-by rocket launchings. But the best thing about The Dark Knight is the news - or, as they say in film, the plot. It's taut, smart and gripping, so we're not forced to drum our fingers and wait for the next appearance of the Batmobile or the new Batcycle (whose arrival proves that half a car is better than none). The stunts are exciting, but here's an action movie where the bits in between feel like more than setup for the next set piece. We've seen Bat movies that wink, sink or stink; this one thinks.

The film, which clocks in at a solid two and a half hours, opens with a daring daylight bank raid by a posse of clowns, one of whom turns out to be insane. We then join Batman who, in a page from the James Bond manual of sequels, is just wrapping up some unfinished business with Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow character from the last movie. Making his job more difficult are copybats, trying to fight crime in knockoff Batsuits and generally getting in the way of criminal and superhero alike.

Reprising his role as Batman is Christian Bale, who plays Bruce Wayne as a man so rich and dour he probably hires people to crack smiles for him. Among his minions are Morgan Freeman as an R&D wizard whose latest gizmo is a sonar-sensing technology that works through your cellphone - it may be available on the next-generation iPhone, but don't expect it to be cheap - and Michael Caine as Alfred, the impeccably turned out butler. Gary Oldman returns as Lt. Gordon, who really deserves a promotion.

The new kids on the block include Maggie Gyllenhaal, stepping into Katie Holmes' shoes as Wayne's ex-girlfriend and one of the few people who knows who's under the mask. Aaron Eckhart comes aboard as Harvey Dent, a district attourney so principled he makes Law & Order's Jack McCoy look a right shifty, plea-bargaining deal-cutter. How he pulls off this performance without descending into smug sanctimony is incredible. How he does it with a haircut from The Zohan is even more of a mystery.

Of course, the performance everyone and no one wants to talk about is that of the late Heath Ledger, who died two months shy of his 30th birthday after completing work on The Dark Knight. Few actors likely give thought to what it would mean for their current role to be their last - although 75-year-old Roman Polanski was surely tempting fate when he made Rush Hour 3 - but Ledger's legacy is safe with the Joker as the last card in his deck.

The Dark Knight The Dark Knight
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The character is evil incarnate, a man who feels no empathy and evokes no sympathy. He is referred to as a mad dog even by himself: "I'm a dog chasing cars," he tells his do-gooding nemesis. "I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it." Backing up this notion with evocative cinematography, returning director and co-writer Christopher Nolan includes a near-silent shot of Ledger in pancake makeup leaning out the window of a Gotham City police car, hair streaming and the wind in his jowls, like a happy Doberman.

Nolan, who first made a name for himself with the 2000 mindbender Memento, knows that even in summer blockbusters less can sometimes be more. Look at the modern-day Batcave, a luminous flat expanse of empty factory flooring with nothing to see but a desk, the Batmobile and a spare set of Bat-radials; yet there is no doubt the walls and ceiling can produce whatever device the plot calls for. And while we witness Batman's ingenious escape from danger using an old Navy trick called Skyhook, we never even see the high-altitude drop that landed him in danger in the first place.

"Madness is like gravity," the Joker gloats at one point. "All it takes is a little push." Belief works the same way.

The Dark Knight
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The Joker is the world's first anarcho-terrorist; interested neither in sex, power nor money, he simply wants to see things go boom. He is a close cousin to Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, but even that guy was taking orders from someone. Bardem also had his chilling life-or-death coin-toss routine, a trick used in this movie by Eckhart's characters, or perhaps overused to the point of ridicule. Its annoying excess is pretty much the only reason The Dark Knight falls short of four stars, although a Mexican standoff involving two stranded passenger ferries also seemed weirdly unconvincing. And perhaps my own sonar was turned up too high when I wondered how the Joker could make good on a threat to blow up a hospital in one hour's time; how would he set all the charges by then?

It is perhaps helpful that Ledger is forever obscured behind more powder, mascara and rouge than contained in the entire run of Sex and the City, since it allows us to focus on the character and turn our thoughts away from the fate of the actor. This isn't always possible, of course: Late in the game, suspended upside down from a bit of Bat rope, the Joker smiles (as he must) and tells his captor: "I think you and I are destined to do this forever." Alas, not.

REVIEW SOURCE: Chris Knight, National Post


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