Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Nicky Katt
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Last night, I stayed up till 2AM and watched The Dark Knight for probably the 5th time. It wasn’t planned. I was channel flipping, and thought “Oh, The Dark Knight, I’ll watch this off to sleep.” Wrong. I was too engaged. It never put me to sleep. I fucking love this movie. Last week, I did a “review” of Ratatouille, which was really more an appreciation of a film I’ve loved since it first came out. I put The Dark Knight on my personal top 250, at #7, so this is basically an appreciation of one of my favorite films of all time. It’s both easier to review a film you know inside and out, and harder because you know there’s also an intangible quality that makes this film so watchable over and over to you. I mean, there are some films I love watching that most people wouldn’t really say are “good” films, but I love watching them over and over for some reason. I’ll be honest and say Sister Act 2 can reel me in for a viewing at least once a year, if I catch it on.
But The Dark Knight… even though I’d seen the film many times, felt new to me again. Even though I found myself anticipating the big moments, I still found myself lost in little things I hadn’t quite paid attention to before. Or, maybe I did notice them, and I just forgot. The Joker’s setup was brilliant all along, and when you watch the movie again and again, you see how he always had the upper hand. He knew everything was going to happen, I believe, right up until the very end when Batman pushed him off the edge. I just think he thought he was going to die, and Batman wouldn’t save him, but he did. The thing I felt like I “discovered” was that Batman really was trying to save Rachel, but the Joker switched the addresses on him, so he ended up saving Harvey instead. Because, deep down, he knew what would happen. Batman would save Harvey, who would then blame Batman for Rachel’s death. It’s the unpredictable twist that Batman couldn’t predict from The Joker, and the reason why the film is so damn good. Batman is always two steps behind The Joker.
In an age where Marvel films have been giving us some really uninteresting villains (Yes, I’m looking at you Yellowjacket), The Joker is really the best film villain we’ve ever had. He’s actually is winning for most of the film. People die. The Joker, in many aspects, wins. He changes Gotham City permanently, and forces The Dark Knight into hiding. He also offers up a game changing kill (Rachel), all while spouting some of the most memorable dialogue from any villain… ever. Yeah, Ultron was cool and all, but I’d like to think even The Joker would have one upped Ultron.
You might think it’s silly that Heath Ledger won an Oscar for playing The Joker in The Dark Knight, but he won it because he was so completely lost in his character. If you look back at every one of Heath’s roles, there’s always a bit of him in it. Here, he feels completely gone, and there’s only The Joker. Like, they actually found the real deal, brought him into the film, and he played himself. It doesn’t feel like a performance or an act. It feels so scarily real and so incredibly different from the person we always saw in Heath Ledger. Calling it a transformative performance almost feels like an understatement. Ledger was capable of clearly so much more than we ever thought, and it’s still shocking that he’s no longer with us.
He’s not the only one delivering an incredible performance. I’ve always thought Aaron Eckhart was fantastic as Harvey Dent, and his character arc is incredible. The focus was so heavily on Ledger’s Joker, but I wouldn’t have minded Eckhart also being taken “awards serious” for his role as well. Eckhart is an actor who constantly floats just under the radar, always delivering good performances, yet somehow never “awards worthy” performances. I actually think this is an awards worthy performance, and he just had really tough competition coming from the same film (and really, in the same category). It’s like trying to pick one of the supporting females from Orange Is The New Black, but Uzo Aduba keeps stealing your thunder. They’re all doing great work, but she just somehow stands out from the rest.
I know I’m not alone in my appreciation of The Dark Knight, and how perfect it is. I know I’m not the only one who sees the beauty in Chris Nolan’s direction, or appreciates the epicness of the score. This is just my way of saying Thank You to all those involved, for making me stay up till 2AM watching a masterpiece. Every person working on a future Marvel film should take note of The Dark Knight. This his how you do a villain right. This is how you raise the stakes.
FINAL GRADE: A+