A Review of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”

Terror in the Knight, 22 July 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Director Christopher Nolan has tapped into a cultural zeitgeist with his soaring Dark Knight.  No other director has shown so much ambition while working within the context of such an iconic name brand belonging to popular culture. By building upon the excellent framework he set with Batman Begins and adding in the chaos of the Joker (Heath Ledger, legendary) and the tragedy of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, admirable), Nolan, like Hitchcock before him, utilizes a B-level genre flick to tap into our shared cultural fears. Along with his co-writer brother, Jonathan Nolan, the director crafts a tightly wound tapestry that explores our archetypal fears of losing our identity and becoming that which we hate, while tuning into post 9/11 fears of terrorism, cowboy diplomacy, wire-tapping, and vigilante justice run amok.

The cast assembled falls right into place with Nolan’s epic and relentlessly dark vision of our current superhero mythology. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are again perfect in their supporting roles of wisdom and gadget providers, while Gary Oldman receives a surprising amount of screen time and delivers a sterling Oscar-worthy performance as the tormented Commissioner James Gordon. Replacing the dreadful Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal is spry and feisty as assistant DA Rachel Dawes, but still seems out of place in her role. Bale is again brooding and effective as Bruce Wayne, though he gets overshadowed by the sly trickster that is Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger is everything he’s been hyped up to be. He’s scary good and his insanely nuanced and subversively humorous performance haunts the film while his character terrorizes Gotham with a feverish intensity that is divinely married to Nolan’s amped up tempo of thrills.

The opening moments of the film fall victim to the typical trappings of a sequel as it tries to reintroduce us to the cast regulars while setting the stage for new conflicts. However, once the Joker starts playing his games, Nolan ratchets up the tension to a nightmarish effect that will leave your pulse pounding for two hours. With each terrorist act of the Joker and ensuing catastrophe, Nolan ups the ante, resulting in a film that is enormously entertaining while also making the obvious bloated runtime seem oppressive and nerve-wracking…almost as if the film is a terrorist attack against the audience…

…and maybe that’s the point. With the opening camera swoop between skyscrapers zeroing in on a single window taken straight from Hitchcock’s opening shot from Psycho, Nolan tells the audience what they are in store for. Two more images, along with Ledger’s ghastly scarred and make-up covered visage, seep into the viewer’s subconscious. The first is after a building is exploded we see an image of firefighters spraying water over the scalding steel left behind that is eerily reminiscent of scenes from Ground Zero. The second is after a hospital is demolished, an image of the building’s carcass on the television seems taken straight from the Oklahoma City Bombing. As we watch the harrowing Joker-less climax involving Batman, Dent, and Gordon, and knowing in the back of our minds what became of Ledger in real life, we realize that terrorism can not only come from without, but from within. Sometimes we are our own worst victims.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468569/usercomments-1186

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Check out my review of the original Batman Begins:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372784/usercomments-501

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17 comments on “A Review of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”

  1. Dave,

    you did it again. Awsome review, just as entertaining as the flick itself. Hope everything is going well with you. My new book is going to the publisher this week. Do I dare send it to you for a review? 😉
    Best wishes,
    Rebecca
    http://www.rebeccalerwill.com

    Rebecca, thanks as always. And, oh, yes, you should dare 🙂 –DHS

  2. Candace says:

    Daf,
    I loved your thoughts on the Movie as much as I loved the movie! Thanks for using the SAT words in your writing… I learn something new everytime. Zeitgeist…. great word!! Keep up with the great reviews!

    – Candace

    Candace, zeitgeist might be my favorite word in the whole wide world. –DHS

  3. Horse Apples says:

    I personally think Eric Roberts deserves an Oscar nod for funniest face made during a Joker scene………….and the most beat up gangster boss in one movie.

    Horsie, yes, Roberts was fantastic, and his facial expressions were hilarious. Sadly, he escaped my review, which goes to show just how many great elements Nolan’s film contained.

    Also a great piece of minor stunt casting was Nathan Gamble as Gordon’s son. Anyone who recalls the poor boy’s fate in The Mist would certainly have been on edge during The Dark Knight’s grand finale. –DHS

  4. Boz says:

    Dave,
    Excellent assessment my friend! I especially liked your Nolan/Hitchcock parallels. Great job.

    Boz, thanks. I don’t recall reading any other reviews that mentioned these parallels (though I am sure other critics and viewers noticed them), especially the obvious opening shot nod to Psycho. –DHS

  5. Man, this movie has seriously gotten under my skin. It’s weird, too, because when I left the theater, I felt strangely disappointed. However, I’ve come to realize just how complex the movie really is. I’ll try and be discreet here, but that sequence involving what the Joker did to the boats…I keep thinking about that sequence and how perfect it was for that moment. Ledger and Oldman stole the show, I thought. And the cameos (William Fichter and Tony Lister, to name a few) didn’t take away, but added to it. And you used the perfect word for the climax: harrowing.

    A third Nolan “Batman” movie is a certainty, I’m sure. I can only wonder what he has left up his sleeve.

    Chris, I wan unnerved more than anything after watching it. It really has stuck with me more than I initially thought it would. The scene you mention was so out of the blue, too. Who would’ve thought they would stack on another terrifying situation like that after all that had happened already? It was brilliant how Nolan was able to up the ante in such unexpected ways. –DHS

  6. Jess says:

    Bravo – once again…=)

    Jess, I’m kinda jealous you saw this in IMAX, though I am still not completely sold on the whole IMAX experience per se. –DHS

    • Jess says:

      (This is a different Jess. Haha.) Oh, DH, the IMAX experience was INDESCRIBABLE. I saw this film the second day it came out in an IMAX theater in Florida, and I was BLOWN. AWAY. You have every right to be jealous. I would have seen the movie in IMAX again when it was re-released, but for some reason, I just didn’t have time. So sad… but you should TOTALLY be sold on the experience. I was LITERALLY on the edge of my seat with that last scene with the Joker, when he was falling through the air, hurtling faster and faster towards the ground. This scene in IMAX was incredible! I would not discount the IMAX experience so quickly, my friend. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

      PS: Can you tell that this is my favorite movie? Hehe. I have a Joker poster in my room, and it puts a smile on my face every time I walk in… pun SO intended! 🙂

      Jess 2.0, I’m ashamed to say the only thing I ever saw in an IMAX theater was Disney’s Fantasia. This was back when IMAX first came out at a theater outside Atlanta. –DHS

      • Jess says:

        Aaawww… don’t be ashamed. That’s cool. Although, you should give IMAX another go when Inception comes out.

        And Fantasia came out in IMAX?! I didn’t even know that! That sounds so cool!

        I vaguely recall a whale scene that was pretty awesome. I think it was the first or one of the first films presented in IMAX. –DHS

  7. bApHoMEt says:

    Brilliant Review. I agree with you on the subliminal imagery that Nolan builds into the film. Notable, as you mentioned – 9/11 and Oklahama Bombing. Although I cannot completely agree with your classification of The Dark Knight as “B-level genre flick.” Perhaps I was misunderstood. But could you clarify?

    Thanks for reading! What I meant was that filmmakers typically treat superhero/comic book movies as B-level genre flicks in that they display a similar formula, style, and thematic content. Nolan clearly did not follow all of those generic rules with The Dark Knight. I felt the brilliance and groundbreaking nature of the film is that he still allowed it to be recognizable as a superhero/comic book movie while going deeper and shattering more rules than any director has before in this context. Just like the Joker thought “Gotham deserves a better class of criminal”, Nolan and his team thought audiences deserved a better class of film. –DHS

  8. Nick Plowman says:

    What an amazing review, wow!!!!

    Nick, thanks. If I haven’t mentioned it already, I’ve added your fantastic blog to my blogroll. –DHS

  9. bApHoMEt says:

    LOL. I guess I was misunderstood then. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

    My pleasure. A little discussion is always good. –DHS

  10. Nikki_Jilton says:

    I saw this movie in a really bad theater, it ruined my movie experience, so I really recommend going to see it at a good theater because this movie is worth it.

    I did catch the whole reference to the post-9/11 government wire-tapping controversy with the mass-sonar system. That was kinda clever, but the way I see it, it’s a freaking emergency situation and I mean a real emergency situation, not like a “time-of-war” situation where terrorists might strike or have stricken and we’re fighting them somewhere else, but there is actually a boat full of hostages, a building full of civilians, and disoriented SWAT teams running blind around the city and everyone knows about it and is huddling under tables scared. If you threw this decision to the people, they’d be like “god dang it use it already!!” There’s still a bit of a difference between terrorists hiding among us with the possibility of striking and the Joker standing in a high-rise surrounded by dogs with a detonator making demands. Apples to Oranges. Besides, Batman’s going to turn the thing off as soon as they get the Joker right? I mean the Army already has a big radio antena down in Antarctica that records all our cell phone signals anyway, a smart superhero would just hack into that thing and save the millions of dollars it cost to build that sonar system. Just my 2c.

    Nikki, I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the sound quality in the theaters they saw it in. It’s a shame so many multiplexes are in shambles when it comes to sound systems. That would have totally ruined the movie for me as this film is so complex and advanced in its sound editing. Thankfully the theater I normally attend has a top-notch sound system, and polite audiences that rarely ever talk or make noise during the film.

    You said: There’s still a bit of a difference between terrorists hiding among us with the possibility of striking and the Joker standing in a high-rise surrounded by dogs with a detonator making demands. –AGREED!!

    -DHS

  11. movie buff says:

    i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted…

    Movie Buff, I thought Katie was horrible in the role (but at least she was cute). Maggie sadly wasn’t much better. –DHS

  12. EJ says:

    Ledger acted brilliantly in the role but I found it to be too disturbing. I prefer the version of the Joker portrayed by Mark Hamil. He was both evil and sadistic yet he wasn’t completely insane and did care whether or not he was killed. Plus Ledger’s Joker had no history. Everyone knows the Joker’s name is Jack Napier. Another thing, Batman seemed to fall off of buildings an awful lot. Where were his rope launchers?

    EJ, I thought the mystery behind The Joker’s origins added to the “disturbing” factor. I liked how we never knew who he was or where he came from in The Dark Knight. I prefer brooding menace over cartoonish villainy any day. I am not familiar with the version of The Joker you mention. You make a good point about the rope launchers! –DHS

    • Jess says:

      Some people may be surprised by this, but I like BOTH versions of the Joker: both the silly, jokey, cartoonish, egotistical maniac AND Ledger’s dark, broken, bitter, sadistic anarchist. Each one is a unique and equally engrossing interpretation of a VERY interesting character. I like to keep them separate in my mind so that I can appreciate both of them at the same time. It works. 🙂

      DH, watch just the first two or three minutes of the short film Batman: Dead End (easily found on YouTube) to see the more cartoonish version of the joker that is just as deep as he is silly (I say just the first two or three minutes because, while the film was interesting, I just did not like the incorporation of Alien and Predator in the story. Yes, it was different and interesting, but I was more engrossed by the short dialogue in the beginning between Batman and the Joker [you may find it interesting that the guy who plays the Joker in this short film, Andrew Koenig, was sadly found dead recently in an apparent suicide, which is just not helping the prospect of the role especially after Ledger’s death).

      To see the full scale of the true nature of the so-called “sillier” version of the Joker, I will also suggest graphic novels such as Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” and Ed Brubaker’s “The Man Who Laughs.” However, if you prefer the dark, more realistic Joker (or if, like me, you enjoy both interpretations), you should check out Brian Azarrello’s “Joker”, all three great graphic novels with beautiful artwork by Brian Bolland, Doug Mahnke, and Lee Bermejo respectively. The rich coloring in “The Killing Joke” will have you salivating, the contrasting images of sharp color and soft inking in “Joker” will take your breath away, and the paneling of “The Man Who Laughs” is an art form in itself.

      Wow, Jess…I just want to be sure I’m clear here…you really like The Joker, right? 🙂 –DHS

      • Jess says:

        -laughs- Hmmm…. maaaaaybe. Yeah, I think he’s a really cool character… he’s kinda sorta my favorite non-existant person in the world. 🙂

        And hey, if you ever get the chance to check out any of the stuff that I suggested, let me know what you think! I’d be interested to hear another opinion over my overt drooling over the material. Haha…

  13. Demob Happy says:

    I like the Hitchcock comparison. There is no reason why a blockbuster shouldn’t be the vehicle for a masterclass in subversive film craft. I haven’t seen this yet but I’d still like to see Nolan go back to making films on the scale of Memento.

    Anybody see The Prestige?

    James, I have faith Nolan can go back and forth between big budgets and smaller more personal productions. He’s pretty much written himself a blank check to do whatever he wants after the success of The Dark Knight. The Prestige was fantastic, but I still think Memento and Insomnia are his best films. –DHS

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