The Dark Knight Revisited

Of all the films I never got round to commenting on this summer probably the most glaring omission was The Dark Knight. I made a brief reference to it with regards the BBFC’s rating of it but I never actually got to sit down and watch it again. The thing was I recognised that it would take a second viewing to fully appreciate it, not to determine whether it was any good (that much was apparent) but just how good it was. The problem is now its not really a recommendation – everyone knows how good it is – but rather a comment on how it stands up four / five months down the line. This was after all a rare thing; a summer movie that lived up to the hype.

So the question is, with a more objective view of the film, is it as good as I’d remembered? The answer is an emphatic yes. As I’d suspected a second viewing actually improves on the film, and shorn of the spectacle of the big screen you begin to focus on other things away from the massive set pieces littered amongst the film (which remain spectacular). The fact that the music is almost constantly raising the tempo, the pacing (I thought that it was a little flat in places on the first viewing and felt like a two and a half hour film – no such concerns on this viewing) doing the same and most of all the performances. Much was (understandably) made of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker at the time but it’s actually the least interesting of all of those on display. Sure it’s magnificent, but the character doesn’t really grow (which may be the point ironically), everyone else goes through some pretty major changes during the course of the film.

Aaron Eckhart deserves special mention in what could easily have slipped into pantomime. He’s been bubbling under for a number of years now (he was the best thing about De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia”) and hopefully this will be the film that finally gets him noticed. He never actually feels like a villain (indeed you could argue he never actually becomes on) and manages to elicit sympathy even when at his worst. Elsewhere everyone seems to up their game. Morgan Freeman steps away from phoning in the dignity to actually show why Hollywood still goes to him for the mentor role, as does Michael Caine. Everyone else is uniformly excellent. Bale probably has the hardest job of all, the role is the least showy on offer and is hidden beneath the massive armoured suit for much of the time. His billionaire playboy is still a million times more believable than Keaton ever was.

However, the true heroes are Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister as Director / DOP respectively. The film is one of the best examples of how to film modern architecture outside of anything by Michael Mann (who clearly had a huge influence on every aspect of it). Nolan overcomes some of the pacing issues of the first film (which never recovered from the peak of the car chase at the centre) to continue to increase the tension throughout and barely allow time for a breather. It’s hard to see how you could make cuts to it to reduce its running length without missing something vital, nothing feels like padding. Best of all he treats the viewers like adults, it’s never “Just a comic book movie” and thus doesn’t pander to the lowest denominator. If we were lucky all summer movies would do the same.

Warner Bros are pushing this (along with the forthcoming Gran Torino) as their major OSCAR contender for next year and whilst it’s difficult to see it failing to dominate the technical categories I’m not convinced that it will fare as well elsewhere as everyone seems to think. It is pretty much the best summer movie we’ve seen for a long time but I’m not sure it can compete with the heavy hitters the studios put out at this time of year, but maybe I’ll be wrong. I’m not even sure it’s the best film I’ve seen this year, but it’s certainly a high water mark.

Nolan remains uncommitted on a third film. On the one hand he’s proven the critics wrong with a sequel that’s better than the first film, but raising the game once again is going to take some serious magic. I suspect he’ll go off to complete a smaller project (or as small as a Christopher Nolan film is going to be allowed to be) in the interim before making a decision, either way I’ll be happy. It’s a fine film on its own.

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