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The Dark Knight: Tense, Sad, Unsettling — And One of the Best Movies I've Seen in Years

The Dark Knight: Tense, Sad, Unsettling — And One of the Best Movies I've Seen in Years

"This town deserves a better class of criminal." – The Joker

Indeed. And by extension, audiences deserve a better class of villain. In The Dark Knight, we get one. Director Christopher Nolan seems to have a keen understanding that we want our heroes to be badass — but we want our villains to be way badder. The movie tells a story about Batman, sure, but really, this is The Joker's tale. Even when it's Batman's story. . . The Joker owns it.

The Dark Knight is unlike almost any other superhero movie that came before it. It's insanely dark, it's melancholy, it doesn't leave you with a great sense of peace. But the thing is, we can handle it. I think this is Nolan giving audiences some credit. And every superhero tale has these themes of good vs. evil, order vs. chaos, hero vs. villain. It's just that this one doesn't sugarcoat these things at all. And why should they be sugarcoated? The superhero's tale is actually the perfect vehicle for exploring these things, and explore them we do. Nolan brings us an affecting, disturbingly dark tale, and one that could easily be seen as an allegory for the goings-on of today's world (terrorism vs. peace, cowardice vs. heroism, etc.). To see more what I mean (and I promise — no spoilers),


Christian Bale reprises his role as the manly, gravel-voiced Batman by night and the wealthy Bruce Wayne by day. Michael Caine again dryly charms his way through the role of Bruce's helpful butler Alfred, and Gary Oldman is again the likable Commissioner Gordon. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives Rachel Dawes, Bruce's love interest and Gotham City's District Attorney, some much-needed depth and chutzpah. In this installment, there's an evil mastermind on the loose, terrorizing Gotham, and his name is The Joker. As The Joker continues to taunt Batman, trying to get him to break his noble moral code of beating the bad guys without actually harming anyone, the body count rises and Joker gets closer and closer to forcing the citizens of Gotham City to turn on each other. He is the greatest fearmonger of all time.

Heath Ledger is thoroughly mesmerizing as Joker. Should we be talking Oscars? Absolutely. I haven't seen a performance so impeccably realized, so desperately truthful in a long, long time. However, another impressive performance comes from Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Gotham's great white hope for a safer, Joker-less future. His mixture of political-minded bravado and inner turmoil makes for a far more layered character than one might expect.

In perhaps my favorite scene — one that is so exciting, and yet so agonizing — we get both of these tortured souls, The Joker and Harvey Dent, alone together. The outcome of this scene is a profound sense of despair because in it we witness how quickly people can shift from good to evil, and how easy and nonsensical violence is. On Joker's part, there is no real reasoning behind his cruel madness, and we're reminded that sometimes evil simply exists for no good reason. It taps into a very real, basic and horrible fear: that in this world where terrorism could lurk anywhere, where chaos and war and murder exist, we struggle continuously to figure out "why?" The Joker represents our most feared response to that question: There is no reason.

Then again, here is another truth: Sometimes people choose good over evil, no matter what. Some will surprise you with their unselfishness. There is a lot of bleakness in this film, but there is also hope.

Of course, compounding the darkness of the movie is the maddening real-life tragedy that is forever intertwined with it. An unsettling side effect of Ledger's death is that we will never see the man behind the garish, horrifying makeup. And in this sense, the Joker is forever, hauntingly alive. There’s no Heath Ledger to do the late-night TV show circuit or the red carpet interviews. He's not coming out from behind the screen to reassure us, "No, no, it's all an act. Here I am, just a guy, just an actor, see?" Logically, we're adults who understand that the Joker doesn't exist. And yet. . . Ledger's absence causes the tiniest of doubts in the back of our minds, the part that's still on board for superhero movies. With no one telling us otherwise, we're left with the cryptic suggestion that the Joker might very well be. . . real.

This is partly what has left me with such a sense of uneasiness since watching the movie, and one of the things that is keeping The Dark Knight at the forefront of my mind. But even beyond that, the film is so well-written, thrillingly suspenseful, action-packed and brilliantly acted. It's all the things we want in a superhero movie — along with a whole bunch of dark, thorny morality issues tossed in.

All told: It. Is. Amazing.

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

eveday eveday 9 years
I have the feeling Katie Holmes is crying herself to sleep now...maybe she will finally realize that marrying Tom wasn't a smart move for her career.
eveday eveday 9 years
I never liked Batman, so I'm not even curious to watch this.
kate0306 kate0306 9 years
kimmie33 kimmie33 9 years
There was ONLY ONE thing I did not like about this movie.....Maggie Gyllenhaal. I didn't like her as Rachel. The rest of the movie was OUSTANDING!
CocoChic CocoChic 9 years
I agree Buzz, this movie has been haunting me. I can't seem to get it out of my head. Heath was absolutely amazing, Bale was great (as always), and Eckhart was chilling in his easy slide from good to evil. Heath deserves an Oscar for this role and I really hope he gets a nomination.
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 9 years
It is a dark movie but it is handled with a lot of class and its just gruesome enough. The movie definitely belongs to the Joker, because Heath Ledger truly lives up to the hype in this film and steals the movie from Christian Bale (who is always fantastic, but seems to be in a more costarring/supporting role). I also liked that Gary Oldman's character, Lieutenant Gordon, had a larger role and he was brilliant in the film. I don't care for the character of Rachel Dawes, but Maggie Gyllenhaal was a slight improvement over Katie Holmes even though I don't think that she had any chemistry with Christian Bale. Aaron Eckhart is also amazing and his transformation was really interesting. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine had great supporting roles as well. However, I wasn't as pleased with the movie as I thought I was going to be. The story was a bit confusing, with all of the villains and their different objectives, and the story wasn't as intersting as I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong, it was a good, maybe even great, movie but it wasn't EXCELLENT. In my opinion, at least.
MissTiffany MissTiffany 9 years
This makes me want to see the movie even more. As soon as I heard that Heath Ledger was going to be the next Joker, I wanted to see it. He was such a brilliant actor...
stephcorinn stephcorinn 9 years
Thanks, couture yourself. I was reading these comments without having seen the movie thinking that nobody would give away any of the details of the movie. I'm going to stop reading the comments now. :(
Briandiesel Briandiesel 9 years
I saw it Friday at 7:40!! It was really great! I was really surprised it was as (kinda) scary as it was. Heath was just phenominal! Christian, I love you.
reesiecup reesiecup 9 years
It was fantastic!
cmc33 cmc33 9 years
I just saw the movie. It is by far one of the best movies of 2008. I think Heath Ledger made the movie. The JOKER to me was the movie! I am going to see it again. There is such intensity. I think Heath should get an Oscar for his portrayal. He was phenomenal!!! I liked jack nicholson in Batman as the joker,but Heath takes the role beyond the imagination. I do not think they could ever replace him or that they should even try. I really hope that Harvey(2-FACE) is not in the next one. I didn't think he was all that good. Its a shame that Heath is no longer amongst the living because I really think the writers could have had another hit with another Batman/JOKER movie. Well, just my 2-cents
lazybones101 lazybones101 9 years
It was a very intense movie. More intense than I normally enjoy but I liked it. Heath Ledger was outstanding.
raieven raieven 9 years
I went to the midnight showing on Thursday and it was so worth it! I am going to see it in Imax this week, can't wait! The last scene is so beautifully shot and haunting, amazing. So amazing. I sort of wish it had gone for the 'R' rating so it could have more 'adult themes' but I'm not going to complain.
vivaciousv1114 vivaciousv1114 9 years
I just came back from this movie and I have to say that I loved it! I've been waiting for it since I saw 'Batman Begins' and it did not disappoint one bit. In fact, it completely exceeded my expectations. Everything thing you said was spot on and I really do hope that Heath gets the Oscar nod. All of the acting was amazing and the story itself was completely real and touching. I can't wait for the next one. :D
kikidawn kikidawn 9 years
I just saw this movie last night and it was Fabulous! I don't normally watch 'superhero' movies, but my SO and his friend convinced me and let me say that I am so happy I went to see it. The performances are amazing. And the movie is so captivating. My SO said that it is very striking to watch the Joker say the line about "You really get to know the psychology of a person right before they die" given the circumstances. (not sure if that is exactly how the Joker said it... but it is the general idea). Our friend believes that Ledger will get an Oscar nomination. We shall see...
nikecold nikecold 9 years
Oh lord...I'm sorry I wrote a novel :)
nikecold nikecold 9 years
I just came home from watching, and I've got to was AMAZING. Every single part of it, I always thought batman begins was a great film, but after watching Dark Knight, I have gained more respect for all the actors. I will not spoil it for you but all I can say is Ledger deserves an Oscar, he really does, wether he will even be acknowledged is yet to be seen. But if the Academy knows a great performance he will. The man was just crazy and so real. Christian Bale also brought something incredible to batman, Gary Oldman was incredible as always, as were Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine and Maggie Gyllenhaal. I am almost in shock at how good the movie was, everything IMO was just done superbly. And like Buzz said, it didn't sugarcoat things, but the movie held itself so well that it didn't need to sugarcoat its audience. What is even more unbelievable is how real everything seemed, the performances and the writing made a SUPERHERO movie something spectacular. It wasn't just great effects, it was how real it felt, and to accomplish that with a superhero movie is really admirable. I found myself being completely still and quiet ...which is something because I normally never shut up during movies no matter how good they are. This movie is truly a masterpiece :) and I really hope everyone will appreciate and enjoy the commitment everyone involved gave to the story.
reesiecup reesiecup 9 years
i'm so stoked to see it tomorrow!!
Audrey1974 Audrey1974 9 years
Great review, I must concur with everyone else here. :) It didn't even feel like a two and a half hour movie for me. I truly enjoyed every second. The cast was just super excellent. Maggie Gyllenhaal was a GREAT addition. (I skipped out of Batman Begins because I couldn't stand to see Katie Holmes after the whole TomKat crap that summer.) I doubt that Heath will get an Oscar nod--probably a Golden Globe win, though--but he just created a grand character (as usual). I left the theater just over the moon because the movie was fab, but then my heart grew heavy on the walk out. Damn, Heath's gone! I feel like now it's final.
PollyPrissyPants PollyPrissyPants 9 years
Wow...I should read before posting...when I said "other than Heath" I meant "in addition to Heath"! sounds like I thought he was bad...*headdesk* He's amazing...let there be no doubt!
PollyPrissyPants PollyPrissyPants 9 years
Saw the midnight show last night and man, have you captured everything perfectly. Heath is breathtakingly good and your theory about the uneasy feeling one gets while watching the film is bang on. Other then Heath, the acting was spectacular - Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhardt stood out to me as well. I really think Chris Nolan is one of (if not THE) best filmaker out there right now and with this film, he's put together one of the best films I've seen for a very long time.
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
UrbanBohemian — Thanks so much! Also, though, I love this: "it elevates the comic-book movie genre into an artistic masterpiece." Well put!
UrbanBohemian UrbanBohemian 9 years
This is one of your best pieces of journalism Buzz...Well done :-) I saw this movie today, and it's sensational. Not just because I love the Batman franchise, but it elevates the comic-book movie genre into an artistic masterpiece. People must experience this film.
Clarby Clarby 9 years
First article I have read of yours Buzz and it is incredibly well written! I'm so excited to go see this movie.
pinky-tuscadero pinky-tuscadero 9 years
I just came back from seeing it....FANTASTIC!!!! :)
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