Hall of great villainy
The Joker roars “Come on, Hit me!!” as he staggers on the streets of Gotham with a gun and knife out challenging the Batman riding on monster truck 2-wheeler Bat-pod in movie’s biggest action sequence. There is a polarized manic jolt in his voice that shots frisson of grit. In Christopher Nolan’s terrific new film The Dark Knight fierce forces of evil and good are colliding just like that shot and like never before. This one is a hell of movie!!
Batman Begins announced the power launch of the lost franchise telling Batman’s origin story- his childhood, his parent’s death, his guilt, exile from Gotham, his training, his return to the city he will protect and battle against bad in his iconic bat suit. Compared to Batman Begins (extraordinary in every bit), Dark Knight moves out of lurking shadows and silhouettes setting bigger ambitious story on wilder canvas and into full blown reality.
Rock star of the show is of course Joker. Late Heath Ledger embodying a perfect evil genius as one of the mesmerizing and memorable screen-villains to hit celluloid. A dangerous upshot of the Batman’s crusading campaign – Joker is a supremely intelligent arch rival to Batman (riveting and irreplaceable Christian Bale) and Nolan places him right at the focal point of the plot. City now is swept with Batman mania, vigilante controversies and copycats. And in cleaning streets his allies are enthusiastic new DA, Harvey Dent (shining Aaron Elkhart in Nolan’s words “all American charm”) and lieutenant Gordon (superb Gary Oldman). Shaken mob hires the clown as their hitman to kill Batman.
First two hours of movie are breathless. Joker orchestrates his own diabolical magnum opus in city of Gotham. With Batman as the dark knight of the city Joker stands against him as a perfect antagonist, ready to hit on the brunt of good and on his masked identity. At relentless pace we watch Joker throwing whole city in mayhem with his ingenious sinister schemes. Movie is a chase for Batman and a game for Joker. One after other ingenious schemes, Joker embroils heroes of Gotham with moral and ethical dilemmas to hammer on their faith in good. Nolan and Ledger made Joker so diabolical so complex he is not a mere villain, he becomes a force, vaults through the film, bringing Gotham on the brink of annihilation.
Loaded with dynamite screenplay by Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan dazzles with sharp dialogues and strong characters. Movie has some of the brilliant action scenes, stunts and chase scenes, one especially spectacular chase scene that blazes with bombs, explosions, collisions and finally explodes on screen.
In the midst of the violence comic book figures develop into something deeper. Newly introduced Harvey Dent rises as righteous hero, White Knight of the city who slams the accusation of Batman being vigilante but also believes Batman is waiting for someone to take over his campaign. Right there Bruce Wayne sees hope of a hero with face that city needs and his return to normal life with childhood friend and potential love Rachel Dowse (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She forms centre of love triangle between him and Harvey Dent. Meanwhile alter ego Bruce Wayne (Bale plays it suave) continues to fashion himself as playboy appearing with popular babes and blondes in public, throwing big bash parties. At one point his notoriety rises to steal entire ballet crew to his private yacht.Morgan Freeman plays Luscious Fox something more than making weapon toys (“Now that’s more like it Mr. Wayne”) and Michael Cain’s Alfred is Bruce Wayne’s shadow and conscience at one point tells a story of a bandit to explain psychology of “sport” criminals (“Know your limits, Master Wayne”). These two actors bring kind of weight and ripe wisdom to their roles.
And there is Heath Ledger shooting on all cylinders. I can’t highly praise it enough, uncanny performance by the late actor in his final, most celebrated and by far his best role. In all his fireball scenes, with sloppy make-up and jagged tone, delivering every dialogue like flickering matches Ledger makes every inch of Joker hypnotic and terrifying.
Batman genre has its genes in film noir (at one point we see Bruce Wayne doing ballistic analysis for the next clue) and finally we have a director who understands it. Nolan explores the dark lore with intense fascination. Apart from evil out there with arsenal, hero-villain dynamics forms the core of the film (director cites Michael Mann’s masterpiece Heat as heavy influence) which is far more complex than one might possibly fathom. Movie delves on themes where these cops-criminals form a strong labyrinth connection to the point they need each other. There is a brilliant scene when hero and villain come face-to-face in an interrogation cellar where Joker tells Batman “I don’t want to kill you. You…complete…me.”
In Comic books city plays like a character, well, Gotham is no exception and Wally Pfister‘s Cinematography puts a gorgeous film on screen perfectly capturing the texture of the comic book frames. Lee Smith‘s razor sharp editing so brilliantly done with challenge of several plots running never loses its momentum and dynamics keeps audience on the edge. And music score is operatic. These outstanding production values make a visceral, thrilling experience. This is so far the best film of the year.
Movie’s grand finale is staged in climatic scenes on an unfinished skyscraper – Joker suspended on wires floating like a gothic shadow figure in the air, his overcoat flowing like cape unravels it all for Batman. It is the intelligence. “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. We’re destined to do this forever”, he says. It’s fascinating to watch Ledger’s devil at work. My favorite shot is where Joker leans out of a police car with his manic laugh, hair flowing in the wind, blurred city lights behind him and director has injected this sinister sound. This is a hallucinating shot. This is a hunting film. Ebert says Comic book movies live and die with their villain, well then the Joker and The Dark Knight are immortal.
* Bad **Average *** Good ****Very Good ***** Outstanding