The Dark Knight – Gardner’s Take

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Anyway, below is Gardner’s (another BRWC member) bracket-happy take on a little known film called The Dark Knight.


The voice certainly threatened to derail the film. The best way I could reconcile it was by looking at Bale’s performance as one of a man who is constantly acting, whether it is as Batman, or Bruce Wayne: International Playboy, or Chairman of the Board. The Young Master Bruce persona he had around Alfred seemed to be the closest to the “real” Bruce Wayne, but the wild shifts in tone, and the implausibility of his Batvoice (like a Coors Beer commercial) pointed to a very insincere character, especially when surrounded by astonishingly sincere characters like Rachel, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and the Joker.

And I say the Joker was sincere because of the astonishing conviction that the tragically late Heath Ledger put into the performance and I took at face value his speech to Harvey in the hospital (Chaos is Fair). The Joker arrives in (is created by ?) a Gotham where the vigilante morality of the Batman is butting heads with the organised criminality of the mob in a nice old fashioned good vs. evil and the Joker’s “plan” as such is call bullshit on all of it. He doesn’t help and then take over the mob for their money or power, he wants to solve all their problems (get back the money and the star witness) then burn it all in a big pile in front of them to show up the pointlessness of their greedy dreams. He doesn’t want to kill the Batman, he just wants to let him in on the joke (see Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s graphic novel The Killing Joke). It’s no surprise that the pivotal scene between the two takes place in the mirrored interrogation cell (which I understand was the first day of shooting for the two actors).

And when the Joker describes himself as an agent of Chaos you have to take him at (two) face value and acknowledge that the Joker is not an “evil genius” who schemes and plans everything in advance, but as a true agent of chaos is the master of improvisation (not least in his constant reinvention of his origin story). His command of the mob merely facilitates this (planting bombs, making hits, etc at short notice). Foiled in his attempt to kill Dent, (which in itself is only part of his plan to unmask the Batman/take over the mob), he adapts and invents a grander scheme to force The Batman and Gordon to make a Sophie’s Choice (of which there are a few) between saving Dent and Rachel (which is another cover for busting the accountant out of jail), then uses the chaotic result (Dent’s transformation into Two-Face) to lecture Batman on the corruptibility of man. Even then this is part of a two pronged argument with the bombs in the boat. One of my favourite choices the script makes is to avoid a simple Batman knockdown defeat the Joker and let the prisoners (brilliant Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister cameo) and passengers decisions to toss away the triggers provide the coup de grace to his argument.

So in terms of “at which point” I think the point is its impossible to judge. In fact the multiplicity of schemes (and their constant adaptability and flux) is what gives the film its core. How does one, practically and morally, combat the forces of chaos ? Pretend to your wife that you’re dead ? Use surveillance so sophisticated that everyone’s privacy is at risk ? Toss a coin ? I liked the little bit of forensics with the bullet fingerprint, not least because I didn’t get what the f**k this had to do with catching the Joker, until I accepted it as a sly dig at CSI TV shows, their moral vacuity and lack of real drama.

I was taken aback by the opening sequence, completely not what I was expecting but on reflection rich with loaded imagery and a perfect signpost for what’s in store. A seemingly mundane aerial sweep through a very naturistically shot New York, then the sudden shattering of the mirrored window and the dizzying IMAX overhead glide to the bank rooftop. Those clown masks conjure up a gazillion films, not least the Burton Batman (was it the second one with the clowns on motorcycles ?), but the one that leapt out for me was Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 heist classic The Killing. In fact the brutally neat domino of executions seemed like a ruthlessly modern update of the fate of the characters in the earlier film, which must have been a massive influence on Christopher Nolan’s career with its out of chronological order narrative. It also points to what I didn’t expect: this is a proper thriller, an examination of character through extreme events, told stylishly and performed with conviction. And then you get to the bank and who’s that in the bank ? William bloody Fichtner! And I could write another three paragraphs on the influence of Micheal Mann’s Heat, but I won’t bother. And when the bank job is done, just show your face to point up the pointlessness of secrecy and killings of the previous 5 minutes and join a queue of school buses, indistinguishable from the innocent.

A couple of niggles: the Two Face CGI, while faithful to the comics and a vast improvement on the Tommy Lee Jones makeup, was so disgusting it distracted a little from Aaron Eckhart’s performance (which was otherwise brilliant – charismatic, noble, heroic) and didn’t allow the actor to properly sell Harvey’s fall from grace. And why the half burned suit ? A uncharacteristically premeditated pantomime gesture from a character driver by rage and loss, particularly in relation to the added symbolism given to the scarred half of the coin, which I thought was genius.

Second niggle: Rachel’s death. There’s a comics term currently in use, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it: “Girlfriend in the Refrigerator”, which comes from the particularly gruesome fate of a girlfriend of Green Lantern in his comic series a few years ago. The phrase became synonymous with the blatant offing a supporting cast member (invariably female) in order to generate some emotional turmoil for the (invariably male) protagonist. Now, the female in peril shtick is as old as the hills, and I don’t mind the script decision to take that further (not least to play with audience expectation at a pivotal moment), but I did feel all the wonderful work Maggie Gyllenhaal put in (missing Katie Holmes anyone ?) was wasted in the service of yet more male angst. Here’s hoping Detective Montoya and Catwoman put an appearance in the next film (vs. the Riddler filtered through the Saw movies perhaps ?) to redress the balance a bit.

I dunno. What did you think?

© BRWC 2010.

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  • movie kingdom 27th August 2008

    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…

  • Gardner 27th August 2008

    Any time spent getting familiar with a Katie Holmes character is time wasted. Is there a more insipid actor working in Hollywood today? (Although I sympathise with her plight as a drugged up brain washed baby machine for the Scientology mob).

    Easily the weakest link in the first film. The change of actress also emphasises the character’s growth. She’s moved on, no longer taken with brooding Bruce. After all, Wayne totally misjudges her true feelings as the scene that prompts Alfred to burn her letter shows. Batman loves Katie Holmes, but she’s Maggie Gyllenhaal now.


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