When Chrisopher Nolan, the director of such thought-provoking films as “Memento” and “Insomnia” was brought on board to direct “Batman Begins” in 2005, he brought a much needed jolt of energy and creativity to the Batman franchise. He transformed a proud silly series and elevated it into an epic crime tale along the lines of “The Godfather.”
With the sequel, “The Dark Knight,” Nolan and his brother, co-screenwriter Jonathon Nolan, took the opportunity to dig even deeper into darker themes that affect our society. The first half of the film starts out as a well done action-movie; however, somewhere in the middle it turns into a disturbing look at a crumbling society in desperate need of hope.
And where do the citizens of Gotham City turn to for that hope? Is it Batman, played by Christian Bale, reprising his dual role as the Caped Crusader and billionaire Bruce Wayne? Or, is it new District Attorney Harvey Dent, sharply played by Aaron Eckhart? Bruce Wayne, the man behind the bat, doesn’t know if he can trust the new D.A., so when he stumbles upon Harvey at dinner with his childhood friend and love of his life Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he seizes the opportunity to join them and get a feel for the man, all the while hearing Harvey’s views on a just society. The scene is a wonderful introduction for the two characters and plays out with subtlety and nuance.
Bruce likes what he hears and now trusts the new D.A, so with Harvey’s help and the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), he sets out to destroy any criminal organizations still remaining. But, with the appearance of a psychotic killer named The Joker (the late Heath Ledger in his much publicized final performance), he’s in for a new kind of evil no one can possibly understand. As his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) explains, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn”.
Ledger’s haunting performance carries “The Dark Knight’s” themes of a chaotic world without answers. A world where there are no rules and human kind under the worst circumstances can be reduced to a beast. Malcolm McDowell’s portrayal of Alex de Large in “A Clockwork Orange” and Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence in “The Shining” come to mind while watching Ledger’s performance; yet Ledger as The Joker brings a noxious, almost demonic quality to the role that makes it entirely his own.
Ledger’s heinous Joker, however, is balanced by Christian Bale’s stark idealism as Bruce Wayne and his crime fighting alter ego. Bale, one of the finest actors working today, has given a sense of realism to the character of Batman. He’s no longer just a comic-book superhero, but a man representative of everyone who’s tired of the corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and criminals who run the streets. He represents real change, the sort of change that can’t come from an outside hero but only from deep within each person’s soul. Working alongside such heavyweight talents as Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and of course Heath Ledger would make a lot of leading men work harder to steal the show. Instead, Bale plays the character with a quiet dignity that only heightens this cinematic masterpiece.
With each character and performance, “The Dark Knight” brings a human component to the questions that face our nation as a whole. If you’re looking for an entertaining ride, check out The Dark Knight, but you might go home with a little bit more.