Sunday, July 20, 2008

"The Dark Knight" is a shining and moving piece of cinema!

The Dark Knight - The Review

Rating: 4.5/5 – Simply Superlative

Note: Apologies for the lengthy review – this movie is too phenomenal for a small, mundane review. It simply deserves a thorough dissertation to do justice to it. Please be patient and persevere through the review – I assure you that your time will be worth it! ;)

Let me begin by saying that what I expected to see was another super-hero movie with a clich├ęd storyline containing all the usual elements – the good vs. evil thread, the proverbial love-interest in distress, the megalomaniac who turns evil with excessive power, the humble common-man who rises above the mundane to become the hero, etc. All done and redone rather thoroughly by a dozen film-makers in twice as many films in the past decade itself. In short, I expected to see the quintessential masala super-hero movie with oodles of feel-good patriotism and boisterous bravado, none of which I thought would justify the 200 bucks I spent on the ticket.

What I saw instead was a gravely serious and supremely grim tale of a city going through dark times – besieged by violent crime and corruption – which is further exacerbated by a maniacal madman whose primary objective is the spread of absolute anarchy. What I saw was a movie which transcended the level of all other super-hero movies by providing not only a scintillating visual spectacle, but more importantly also a character driven analysis and a deep psychological treatise on the best and the worst amongst us and the factors that motivate us to be either supremely good or maniacally bad. And let me say that it was worth the 200 bucks!

Plot-Summary: The story begins with a violent bank robbery orchestrated by a masked man who calls himself the “Joker”, (played previously by the legendary Jack Nicholson, who pales in comparison to the portrayal here by the Late Heath Ledger). We are given an indication of his ruthlessness and his anarchist methods, when he double-crosses his accomplices, killing them mercilessly and takes all the loot away. Right away, we know that this is a man who has a very black heart and whose mind leans towards the maniacal. Then, we are introduced to members of “The Mob”, whose wings have been clipped by Batman’s heroics (Batman being played by Christian Bale). The Mob’s operations are shut-down and its members indicted by the legal acumen of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the newly appointed crime-intolerant District Attorney (D.A.), with the help of a beautiful assistant Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). “The Mob” have an interest in seeing Batman dead/disbanded. The Joker suggests that in return for half their financial assets, he neutralizes Batman, to which the Mob reluctantly complies. The rest of the movie chronicles the war (and its many casualties) between The Batman and the D.A. Harvey Dent on one side and the Joker on the other. As the war progresses, we see the balance constantly tilt in favour of the evil, helping to maintain the tension and the overpowering sense of gloom that serves as a harbinger of a dark future. We witness the transformation of good men, by circumstance and tragedy, into evil beings, consumed by the blind-anger of revenge.

One question that may come up in your mind – “So What?! This doesn’t seem new at all.” I beg to differ – it might not be completely “new” and it is very much the story of good vs. evil at its core. But, it is the manner the story unfolds that leaves you spellbound and deeply unsettled and disturbed. Beyond the evident storyline is a careful examination of the psychological and moral conundrum that Batman and Harvey Dent face as they go about dealing with crime in the city. Harvey Dent is the kind of hero that Gotham City deserves – fighting crime with legal recourse, but the vigilante Batman is the one that it needs currently. The Batman feels that Dent’s methodologies are indeed more suitable for a civilized society, but is forced to don the mantle of an outlawed vigilante. Both of these men face tough choices when they are confronted by an evil madman who is not motivated by money or self-advancement, but by the pure black desire for absolute chaos. The Joker threatens the city with increasing violence as a bait for Batman to reveal his true identity. This is when the troubling conundrum comes up – should Batman give himself up to prevent bloodshed and cause a moral victory for the anarchist ideology or should he risk bloodshed in order to subdue the Joker?

On the performances/casting front: Christian Bale as the Batman/Bruce Wayne manages to switch rather effortlessly in the two personas – being the persistent but placid Batman, while also being the flamboyant millionaire. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, the crime-tough D.A. gives a moving performance as a good, earnest man who when befallen by tragedy, transforms into an extremely violent vigilante. Gary Oldman plays Commissioner Gordon with all the marks/nuances of a seasoned top policeman. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Rachel Dawes as a mixture of toughness and tenderness – portraying her confusion of feelings towards two great men (Bruce and Harvey) who play a central figure in her daily life.

But the one that beats ‘em all, is the portrayal of the Joker by the Late Heath Ledger, whose performance is stellar and superlative. It is not everyday that one gets to experience evil in its purest form. Throughout the movie, I found myself spell-bound by this Joker, grudgingly admiring his capacity to transcend mundane criminals into the stratosphere of evil. I couldn’t help finding him more humanistic and dynamic than the “good” but rather rigid Batman, whom I found rather placid. This ambivalence of feelings is a testament of Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker – Ledger manages to make a character whom you should despise into a character whom you are mildly amused with and whom you begin to even unintentionally admire! His is truly a spine-chilling performance that just sustains the movie with constant climatic tension throughout.

At 2hours 45mins, this movie is indeed unusually long for hollywood’s standards, but never did it feel long. There was never a dull moment in the movie and the screenplay kept things tight and ensured plenty of action. The direction and cinematography is spot on, managing to capture a range of emotions on different characters, all from the most strategic angles. The special effects were spectacular and complemented the stylish action on screen.

There are a lot of moments in this movie that gives you goose-bumps and spine-chills. Most of them have the Joker and Harvey featured prominently. These two characters – brought excellently to life by Eckhart and Ledger – completely steal the show from the Batman. Particularly memorable is the moment when the Joker tells Batman that “when the chips fall down, these so-called ‘civilized’ people will become wolves and chaos would ensue”. Later on, when such a ‘chip-falling’ situation occurs (not revealed because it would be a plot-spoiler), in a spine-chilling moment, we realize that the Joker’s prediction might come true – that chaos would indeed ensue. It is in these moments that you come to grudgingly agree with the Joker, as he reveals the hypocrisy and the self-advancement of each individual even in a civilized society to the point that it threatens to become barbaric. In that moment of epiphany, you realize that The Joker is simply a doppelganger of the Batman – the evil complementary alter-ego which completes the whole.

As a testament to the movie’s resonating power among movie-goers, the I.M.D.B. already features this movie on its Top 250 movie list at the 1st position – the top of the pedestal (as of July 20th, 2008, 8 p.m. I.S.T.). It has managed to secure a cumulative rating of 9.7 (higher than movies such as The Godfather & The Shawshank Redemption). Whether it is worthy of being christened as THE Best movie of all times, is not as relevant as the troubling questions it raises (which have tremendously profound parallels to real world situations including world politics). This movie truly deserves to be in the league of the best movies ever made as an unusual entrant – a super-hero movie which crosses its genre and becomes a poetically grim dissertation on the dilemma that we all face – whether it is prudent to become evil in order to fight evil. And yes, Heath Ledger deserves to be at least nominated (if not win) for the Oscars for his haunting performance – it was his parting shot which deserves to be honoured.

Bottom-line: An absolute jewel – this is indeed on my top movies list, amongst other gems and cult-classics. It is a definite must-watch, worth each and every cent!

The Dark Knight @ Wikipedia: Exhaustive Plot Details and Production Notes, etc.
The Dark Knight @ I.M.D.B.: User Comments, Facts and Trivia (IMDB Rating: 9.7)
The Dark Knight @ Rotten Tomatoes: Aggregation of Critic’s reviews (Tomato-meter: 94%)