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The Dark Knight, reviewed

 

Goddamnit, Heath Ledger. Why couldn't you have taken up yoga?

(Side note: a couple of years ago, two friends of mine crashed at my place for a couple of days en route to a climbing trip. While I was delighted to see them, I was less thrilled with a friend of theirs who stayed unannounced [and uninvited]. He was a bit of a homophobe, among other things. Since Friend #1 wanted to watch Brokeback Mountain, I popped it into the DVD player on the third night. Upon viewing the Tent Scene, Mr. Uninvited Houseguest stood up, announced that it was a shame that Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall had ruined their careers in such a fashion, further stated that neither of them would ever work in Hollywood again, and departed out to sleep in his van. He left early the next morning. Brokeback Mountain: critically acclaimed *and* good for getting rid of unwanted houseguests! Betcha can't say the same about Crash!)

Oh, yeah. The Dark Knight. It really should have been titled The Joker. I'd be hard-pressed to say which is Heath Ledger's better role: this or Ennis del Mar. A useful metric is the Nicholson index; it's pretty hard to out-Jack Jack, and Mr. Ledger certainly does. However, I had zero desire to cry while watching him wreak havoc. I suspect it is also less useful in room clearing, and is unlikely to raise anyone's consciousness about marginalized societal elements, unless you really feel that dynamite-obsessed psychopaths are tragically misrepresented in Hollywood these days.

The rest of the movie (and indeed, there are other people on the screen, though occasionally I forgot in between watching Heath lick his lips ferally) veers between serviceable and pretty darn good. The merely serviceable parts lend it a decidedly overstuffed feel (2 1/2 hours long, and I definitely felt it near the two-hour mark). The plot takes some unexpected twists in between Wagnerian set pieces (including one of the most impressive aerial stunts on film so far) and performances that are far better than one could have expected in a comic book movie even a few years ago.

Poor Katie Holmes. Maggie Gyllenhall evinces more professionalism in a raised eyebrow than she managed in the entire previous film. Gary Oldman by himself makes both films worth watching. I'd be raving about Christian Bale if I hadn't spent the entire movie transfixed by Heath Ledger's tongue. The guy fills out a Bat-suit better than anyone prior. Aaron Eckhart oozes slightly suspect public-servant charm as Harvey Dent, and then as Two-Face he just... oozes. He gets some of the DC-iest dialogue in the movie, and damn if he doesn't make it sound sincere.

Jonathan Nolan, my inner Catholic nun began rapping you on the knuckles every time one of these fine people had to utter a cliche that you slapped into the script, and it's a good thing for you that they were frequently followed by epic explosions and/or Heath twitching crazily around again. (One more for the Nicholson index: they didn't sound like cliches when they came out of a pair of red rictus lips.) But you made some fascinating points about terror, fear, and the truly moral way for those in power to react to both, so I'll give you a pass. If you got Middle America genuinely thinking about the pros and cons of wiretapping, you can have at least five scenes involving flipping a coin and blathering about chance.

Near the end, I found myself very grateful for the presence of Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in such bleak surroundings, particularly as things fell apart and the center did not hold. While The Dark Knight had some humor, it was black as a certain crusader's cape. It left me pensive and more than a bit depressed, and some "Billionaire Playboy Burns Down Mansion" levity would have been much appreciated near the end.

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it odd that American society mostly analyzes morality in the context of comic book archetypes these days? I'm not complaining; I think it's an improvement over analyzing morality through Westerns. I'll take Heath Ledger, Robert Downey Jr., and Edward Norton over John Wayne any day. But now I'm thinking about all the movies John Wayne made, and how small Heath Ledger's body of work is, and I'm back at the beginning.

Goddammit, Heath Ledger!