the better truth

the better truth

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

Our Dark Knight

“The Dark Knight”, the newest Batman film, broke box office records this weekend. The tragic death of Heath Ledger months prior to the opening certainly spawned a certain morbid curiosity regarding the film. Images of Ledger’s Joker appeared on the Net within days of his demise. It was more than a publicity ploy – Ledger is the movie. The film revolves around the not so merry prankster. It’s worth the price of admission but one can’t help feeling some regrets that this Swan Song wasn’t set in a different pond. I’m not referring to the fact that this Gotham is Chicago – even if they’d done it right by using the Big Apple, the flaws are more than geographic.

It’s all very slick. There are marvelous supporting actors (Morgan Freeman, Michael Cain…) and the modernist slant on Gotham and the Bat-cave were ingenious. No cramped quarters amidst Depression era squalor – we’re in an endless sea of Seagram’s buildings – this Batman lives in Architectural Digest. It works. The props were equally impressive – loved the Mad Maxish cycle and the up-armored Hummer Bat-mobile. And lets not forget the make-up & costumes. This Joker is a homage to Clockwork Orange and PT Barnum; the caped crusader is GQ cool in-and-out of his cowl – couldn’t get enough of that endless wind-flapping curtain-like cape. Unfortunately the writers had too much wind and the director seemed to blow in the breeze of FX fun. The mechanics overwhelmed the driver.

There is talk about this being a meditation on our current regrettable political state. The dramatic team comes out on the side of the rule of law vs. the rule of order. Having just seen “Batman Begins” they still are on the side of Dirty Harry in “Magnum Force” and not Dirty Harry in “Dirty Harry”. Well unfortunately they didn’t quite strike the meditative balance of Fritz Lang’s “M”. The bottom line is the sermon must fit within the dramatic framework. In this case too much weight was laid on a cumbersome love triangle. It wasn’t the actors’ fault, Batman, the DA and the Assistant DA all hit their marks – but you can’t do ballet when the band is playing a polka. Did you believe anyone was smitten with anyone? Once again they all gave it their best shot – but this Love Boat never left the harbor.

Maybe I’m being abit hard – hey what’s wrong with a slick production that tries to rise above the fray and actually say something. Well good intentions can only go so far and this political season I’ll reserve my “Yes We Can” feel good spirit for real politics. Let comic books be… well comic books. Villains need to cackle and good guys need to muster the forces of righteousness just in time to save the lady tied to the saw-mill. The righteousness arrived, albeit it was a busy last half hour. There was plenty of cackling and Ledger’s last performance was indeed memorable – although I really think John Malkovitch nailed this sort of character in “In the Line of Fire”. But at least Ledger wasn’t burdened with being one of the sides of that triangle. Alas he was forced to showcase the writer’s unfortunate habit of giving lines to the character that should have remained director’s notes. I think the Joker is everything he said he was but I don’t think he would have said he was. It’s the same problem Hannibal Lector had in the sequel to “Silence of the Lambs”. In the first film he was Hannibal but in “Hannibal” he was the idea of Hannibal. That film was ingenious, clever, well researched but intellectual summersaults are for the brain and not the heart. Same goes for “The Dark Knight”: We needed more of the dashing DA metamorphosing into the Portrait of Dorian Gray. It’s absurd. It’s over the top. But… it worked. Kudos to Aaron Eckhart; a lesser actor might not have understood how much ham to put in the sandwich. Gary Oldman was equally impressive as the battled hardened cop exhibiting the importance of being earnest. Yes they’re campy but hey THIS IS A COMIC BOOK… women really faint and yes the villain always blink their eyes…. Let’s not discuss motivation or make incisive commentary about current events.

Once again I’m being picky. Lay your $7.50 (or more) down, sit back and look for the signal of the bat in the sky. He’ll come. He’s everything a 21st century batman should be. Morgan Freeman channels James Bond’s Q and delivers enough jabber about the technical side of the Bat-gizmos to make any child of the Wacky Pack generation think: well they probably have stuff like that for Special Forces… More importantly he’s what we crave in W’s second term: a rich. Handsome, corporate tycoon, void of arrogance, saddled with doubt, wrestling with his social conscience and channeling everything into a magic machine to crush the evil doers. It’s enough to make you believe in a smart, good looking, ambitious Chicago politician who doesn’t believe in politics.

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