WELCOME TO A WORLD WITHOUT RULES.
“Why so serioussss?”, hisses the Joker as he flashes his retarded grin. This is after committing several murders, throwing Gotham City into disarray and before trying to force two boatloads of people to choose which one of the groups should perish first. It’s easy to see why people fail to laugh at his antics. In the final sequence of the first film of this franchise, Batman Begins (2005), it was revealed that the crimefighter’s next enemy would be the Joker. No one is as dangerous as a person who, in Alfred’s (Michael Caine) words, has no other motive but to “watch the world burn”.
Hitting a Mafia-operated bank
He has balls, this new fiend. The Joker (Heath Ledger), a seemingly demented criminal with a white-painted, scarred face and a blood-red grin, hits a bank operated by the Mafia and steals a huge sum of money. At the same time, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) prepares to deliver a serious blow against the mob organization, but the Chinese leader of it transfers its money to Hong Kong. The police, under Jim Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) leadership, secretly agree to let Batman (Christian Bale) go to the Chinese metropolis and kidnap the mobster. The Mafia feels the need to get rid of the caped crusader and reluctantly hire the Joker to do it; after all, he has shown his credentials. The Joker goes on a killing spree, terminating a judge and the police commissioner, but fails to murder Dent. He does however tell Gotham City that if Batman doesn’t turn himself in the mayhem will continue.
After a disastrous event with more victims, Bruce Wayne decides to give up and let the Joker have it his way, but he hasn’t counted on Dent’s plan to sacrifice himself… or the Joker’s selfish need to continue fighting the Bat in the future.
Visual feast for a bleak mind
Ledger’s final, complete performance is a tour de force. Some might say that his death has caused critics to overreact, but his brilliance was obvious even in this film’s first trailer, shown before he died. He is virtually unrecognizable; it’s not just the dirty, messy, intimidating make-up, but his voice has a deliciously dark drawl and the way he moves (sort of hunched) is completely different from his other performances, and other people’s takes on this character. He’s the true star here, the definitive Joker, and the fact that the character commits atrocities only for the thrill of the game makes him scarier.
The story of how the ultimate good guy, Harvey Dent, is turned into another crazed villain, Two-Face, is one of the strongest parts of the story; when a hero falls, he falls very hard. But people need the perception of heroism, something to believe in, and perhaps a true hero’s role is sometimes to step back and take the part of a scapegoat for the good of the collective. These thoughts are brilliantly realized by director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan in their script.
The film is a visual feast for those with a bleak mind; Gotham has never been a city one would like to spend a vacation, but the gothic look fits the brutality of the story. The action sequences are magnificent and fanboys will enjoy the new Batpod; the masculine style of the film is the same as in the original, militaristic and bombastic.
Two quibbles; the story loses its grip on you as it nears the end, going on a bit too long… and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character should have been richer considering its significance to the story. But nevermind. There is something poetic about an actor delivering perhaps the finest performance of his career and then dying, as if his work was done and that was it. Ledger left us much too soon, but his crazy clown is the crowning achievement of the 28-year-old’s impressive career.
The Dark Knight 2008-U.S. 152 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan. Music: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard. Cast: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Heath Ledger (The Joker), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman… Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall.
Trivia: U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy has a cameo as a party guest. Matt Damon was allegedly considered for the part of Dent; Robin Williams for the Joker. Followed by The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Ledger), Sound Editing. Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Ledger). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actor (Ledger).
Last word: “I don’t talk a lot about the previous films because I didn’t make them and they’re not mine to talk about, but certainly if you look at ‘Batman Returns’ with Danny DeVito as The Penguin, eating the fish and everything, there are some extraordinarily disturbing images in that movie. But they’re coming at it from a surreal point of view. […] I think the ways in which this film is disturbing are different. We try to ground it a little more in reality and so I suppose there’s a sense there that might get under your skin a little more, if it relates to the world that we live in.” (Nolan, About.com)