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DARK KNIGHT, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Batman (Christian Bale) and Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) join forces with Gotham's new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), to take on a psychotic bank robber known as The Joker (Heath Ledger), whilst other forces plot against them, and Joker's crimes grow more and more deadly.

Review by Louise Keller:
There’s a sense of daring in this explosive Batman film, in which we constantly feel on edge, aware of impending risks and the fact that there is something to lose. Writer director Christopher Nolan is as firmly in control of this stupendous blockbuster with its massive stunts, well constructed plot, conflicted hero and darkly manic villain as Bruce Wayne in his Lamborghini or Batman in his batmobile. Christian Bale continues to be the perfect Batman but all eyes are on Heath Ledger, whose emotional fragility is magnified as he delivers an astonishing performance as an imposing, seriously disturbed Joker who plays with no rules.

‘You can die a hero or live long enough to be a villain,’ says Ledger’s Joker as he creates chaos in a terrorised Gotham City where copycat Batman clones confuse law and order. Through the chaos comes ‘a decent man in indecent times’: Aaron Eckhart’s District Attorney Harvey Dent, who believes in making his own luck despite the two-sided lucky coin he keeps close at all times. Eckhart is perfect for the role, and while Bale’s Batman respects and understands Gotham needs ‘a hero and with a face’, there is underlying tension: after all they are both in love with the same girl (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel).
All the performances are top notch and the relationships well formed. It is impossible to watch Ledger’s performance without feeling a sense of poignancy. The strength of his Joker is its complexity and dark humanity: the way Ledger wears the character’s pain is crystal clear beneath the opaque and grotesque clown’s make up, the painted smile, lank, greasy hair, darting eyes and ever-moving tongue. It’s nightmare material. And it’s always a pleasure to see Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne’s ever-faithful butler Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius, who distrusts too much power in one man’s control.

There’s a little bit of everything in this thrilling and often violent superhero fantasy – romance, humour, drama, stunts and loads of tension. The stunts are massive with exploding buildings, somersaulting cars, torpedoing helicopters and a huge truck which Batman lassos. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard team up to deliver a hummdinger of a musical score which never lets up. It’s overlong, but for the genre, The Dark Knight is about as good as it gets, elevated by Ledger’s memorable final curtain call.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A stupendous performance by the late Heath Ledger burns this incarnation of The Joker into our psyche as securely as did Jack Nicholson's. But even more than Nicholson, Ledger plays The Joker for real; unlike the unavoidably cartoonish Batman, The Joker in Ledger's hands is a fierce and fearsome character whose deadly game is profoundly grounded in a perverse sort of pragmatic reality, built on a unredeemably negative view of human weakness. His disarrayed make up and wardrobe, the result of a fanatic's imperfect application, adds to the genuinely scary persona.

Another terrific bonus for the film is the score, using the talents of both Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. It's big and bold and often shouts its presence at high tension moments, of which there are several. I have a serious reservation about the mix, though, which suggests that the sound engineers and the director were so enamoured of the score, they let it all hang out in the mix, often overriding dialogue.

Less successful is the sometimes murky development of the plot, which labours its way to the resolution, in which we get to understand why Batman is referred to as the Dark Knight - as he disappears into the dark night of Gotham City. There is no question that the muscly production strives for audio visual thrills, but it does so at the expense of focused storytelling. Bruce takes Wayne too long to deliver what's expected of him - and the film suffers from the weight of its story and character convulsions - well intentioned though they are.

Christian Bale has matured as an actor since he first slammed the pedal to the metal in the Batmobile - as has the Batmobile. But - with clear logic, I admit - he adopts a throaty, rasping voice when in the Batsuit, which seems cheesy. (The logic being that when he didn't, his voice would be recognisable; something that distracted me last time.) I also did a mental 'phaw' when wardrobe decided to match the disfigured side of Harvey Dent's (Aaron Eckhart) face with his half his jacket. This signals the comic book genesis of the franchise, but there aren't enough of these references to make it work on this occasion.

Gary Oldman, Eckhart and Maggie Gylenhaal (the latter as the woman who once loved Bruce Wayne but now is seeing Dent) all deliver wonderful, credible and heartfelt performances. The stunts are spectacular and the pace relentless, but when the cinematography (otherwise excellent) gets bogged down in undecipherable, chaotic action, and the plot has left the building, boredom sets in for sections of the film that make 152 minutes seem rather long.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

DARK KNIGHT, THE (M)
(US, 2008)

CAST: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gylenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy, Anthony Michael Hall, Monique Curnen, Nestor Carbonell

PRODUCER: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

SCRIPT: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (characters by Bob Kane)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Wally Pfister

EDITOR: Lee Smith

MUSIC: James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nathan Crowley

RUNNING TIME: 152 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 16, 2008







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