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The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

HEATH Ledger will undoubtedly get the bulk of the plaudits and (probably) a posthumous Oscar for his mercurial performance as The Joker but there are so many other reasons why The Dark Knight is such an instant classic.

Christopher Nolan deserves a lion’s share of the credit, too, for the way in which – as both co-writer and director – he helps the film to transcend its comic book genre to emerge as one of the greatest crime sagas of recent years.

While the likes of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart are every bit as effective in adding nuance and depth to this complex tale, thereby ensuring that Ledger’s scene-stealer has something worthwhile to play off.

Set in the wake of Batman’s emergence as Gotham’s unlikely saviour, the film picks up as the city finds itself on the brink of a new era. Organised crime is on the back foot, thanks to the dedicated triumvirate of Batman (Bale), Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Oldman) and committed new DA Harvey Dent (Eckhart), and there is a renewed sense of hope about the future.

But just when they’re on the brink of a major breakthrough a new threat arises in the form of criminal mastermind The Joker (Ledger), who plunges Gotham into chaos and forces Batman ever closer to crossing the line between hero and self-serving vigilante.

From its opening six-minute heist sequence alone, which beautifully sets up The Joker’s macabre brilliance, it’s clear that Nolan’s film isn’t going to be content to play by the rules of any one genre. Rather, it draws from a diverse range of influences.

Nolan himself has cited Michael Mann’s Heat as a clear reference point and The Dark Knight thrives on its exploration of the thin line that exists between hunter and hunted. But there are elements of Scorsese’s The Departed, Coppola’s Godfather trilogy and the twisted genius of David Fincher’s Se7en in the moral complexity that ensues.

The Joker, in particular, is a masterful creation whose incessant scheming and despicable manipulations are only fully realised late in the day. Ledger, for his part, invests him with a ferocious charm and piercing intelligence that’s reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter – a ghoulish creation capable of terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure.

And let’s not under-estimate the brilliance of Ledger’s portrayal or the overwhelming sense of loss that comes with the knowledge this was his final complete performance. He inhabits The Joker in a way that only the greatest actors know how, deserving to be mentioned in the same breath as Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert De Niro or even Marlon Brando.

But as previously stated, he has plenty to play against and Nolan’s film thrives for many other reasons. Eckhart, especially, deserves similar praise for making his Harvey Dent such a tragic figure – a no less vital component in Nolan’s grand masterpiece. His journey from high-flying crusader to horrifically disfigured freak is every bit as effective in ensuring the film hits home emotionally, as well as in terms of spectacle.

And Bale, too, is a typically intense central figure – the ying to The Joker’s yang and the flipside of the same coin. The actor expertly tip toes a fine line between right and wrong or – as Eckhart’s insightful DA puts it – dying a hero or “living long enough to see yourself become the villain”.

It’s another of the film’s many accomplishments, though, that not everything is predictable. There are twists galore, surprise cameos and jaw-dropping revelations that only enhance the richness of the piece. Nolan keeps you guessing right up until the end, even pulling the rug out from under you on several occasions.

And in terms of spectacle, he also delivers some astonishing set pieces – chases, gun fights, explosions and full-blooded fist fights that easily overcome some of the technical difficulties that were criticised on Batman Begins

Underpinning them all, however, are the performances, which deliver more fireworks than the film’s most spectacular pyrotechnics. The Dark Knight is, at its heart, an actor’s showcase and Nolan never loses sight of that fact.

His film therefore boasts a lasting significance that time and technological advances can’t diminish – it’s a dark masterpiece that grips from beginning to end and which serves as a fitting final tribute to the memory of one of its brightest young talents.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 34mins
UK DVD Release: December 8, 2008