I saw The Dark Knight yesterday. I try to avoid watching a film when all the hype is happening. When I used to review films I was able to watch new titles before the hype machine had really gotten going. Now, in the case of films which I know are going to be consumed with hype, I leave it until quite a while after the film has done its rounds before taking a look myself.
I watched up until just after Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character’s death. I didn’t stay to find out what happens to Two-Face, I’d lost interest by that point. Lots of rollicking comic book hero production value: great stunt and pyrotechnic sequences; lovely sets and costumes; much more elegant lighting than is the case with most superhero flicks; sound design to die for in places (such an underrated aspect of Hollywood production – if only it could be put to use more imaginatively); reasonably good dialogue by superhero standards, containing regular doses of that lovely “You complete me…” inter-textuality that post-modern, Simpsons weaned audiences love to pick up on. We could go on. Lots of good stuff anyway. I’m certainly not about to argue here that I watched a film terrible in every respect.
I had a problem with a lot of the editing. Mainly the elisions of time. Example: one minute Harvey Dent is delivering his success speech to the press, the joker having just been apprehended, then suddenly, only moments later, the joker has Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent bound up with explosives in two buildings on opposite sides of town. Erm…and for my next trick! Oh, yes, I remember, this is a kid’s film. Don’t be too harsh on it. But seriously!
Actually, given what most kids have access to looking at on the NET, and do look at, there’s nothing really inappropriate about calling this a kid’s film. It’s much easier for me to think about it in those terms: “It’s a kid’s film that I enjoyed various sections of.”
But where the hype hit me most was with the sycophantic absorption by the public of this word “dark”. It wasn’t THAT dark. It was on the dark side for your average comic book hero film. But by comparison with the broader spectrum of film content out there, I defy any serious cinephile here to call it dark. I found Heath Ledger’s performance if anything a little over-stylised; that reduced its darkness for me.
Is it just me or has everything that’s been said about the film been just a little bit exaggerated?
And did we really have to insult Heath Ledger’s acting ability by lauding his performance so much? It’s a good comic-book baddie performance. I didn’t think it was spectacular. It didn’t knock me for six the way a truly great performance like Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin did. It all smelled a little like the “Lady Diana” syndrome to me. I think it would have been far more respectful to Heath, who was a good actor, to have avoided some of the hysteria and pseudo-sentiment around his death and just praised his contribution to the film normally.
Am I completely on my own here?
I’m sure you won’t be alone here, there are lots of people who like to rag on a film that has gotten a lot of critical/social acclaim, but I think your example of elisions of time is a bad one. Dent/Gordon/Batman catch and arrest the Joker, Dent gives his speech. Then while the Joker is being taken to the police station, the two cops who were working for him, who were supposed to take Dawes and Dent home, instead took them to the warehouse locations where they were tied to the explosives. It’s not a big jump in time – the audience isn’t shown it because we (like Batman and Gordon) need to be surprised by the turnabout and by the identity of the bad cops. But it’s totally reasonable, timeline-wise.
A better example, to me, would be when the Joker shows up at Bruce Wayne’s fundraiser, after Batman goes flying off the building to grab Rachel, what does the Joker’s gang do? Ask which way to the elevator? Say “look over there!” and then run the other direction? That, to me, is a better example of a weird time transition in the film.
As for Heath’s performance, I thought it was phenomenal, and incredibly creepy and unsettling. That, I think, is what makes people think of the film as “dark.” That, and the downer ending. Heath’s Joker was actually revolting and scary, and yet you couldn’t take your eyes off him while he was on screen. Frankly, I don’t know what other roles in Heath Ledger’s canon people point to when calling him a great actor. I suppose “Brokeback Mountain,” but I didn’t find that role particularly amazing.
I’m sure more people on this forum will agree with you than agree with me though. To each his/her own!
I think you picked apart my elision of time example effectively. Although I think your description removes the film from the frying pan and drops it down on the fire. What you refer to as “surprise” actually registers as something much milder when I witness that sort of narrative development. The tidy imprisonment of Dawes and Dent doesn’t produce surprise in me so much as a mild cringing at the monumental contrivance of it all. Which means that ultimately for me the film can’t be taken seriously. The plot devices are so rapid, tidy and over-simplified it becomes just another one of the cartoons which have preceded it – which perhaps is the point. But then I don’t think you can have it both ways. If it’s contrived and over-simplified, I can’t find it dark. Dark for me is something more incisive.
I think reception of Heath’s performance must have a lot to do with cultural difference. Ultimately, it comes down to pure subjectivity. Unlike you, I didn’t find it creepy or unsettling in the slightest. For me it was pantomime. I thought it was consistent, well held together and, for what it was, well delivered; but not dark at all. For me, as raw as his performance was in Brokeback, this was staged to the limit. The best compliment I can pay him is that whereas Pacino (who seems in later life to have lost that invaluable quality we refer to as taste) would have taken the role too far and over-pantomimed the pantomime, Ledger gets the pantomime spot on. It turned out to be exactly the right time in the year to watch the film. Quality Christmas theatre.
Wow—sensible discussion of “The Dark Knight”! Very rare. My two cents’ worth: I saw it right away, and was very enthusiastic, so I came back and saw it again—and was less, but still pretty enthusiastic—then went with a friend for a third time, and now the movie was exhausted for me. No, I have to agree, there’s no greatness here, just a dandy summer movie.
But about the Joker: It’s impossible to pick out what’s due to Heath Ledger, what’s due to the script, what’s due to the director and the immediate context of a given line or reaction on Ledger’s part, but I remain fascinated with that part of the film. In particular, there are a couple of moments when he indicates that he really wants to die: standing in the street with the batcycle or whatever it is hurtling at him, he mutters “Come on. I want you to… I want you to…” And then there’s the hospital scene: the pistol aimed directly at his temple, his own hands clasping it fervently, and he mutters “now we’re talkin . . .” That to me transcended what Carl called pantomime.
Nolan and/or Ledger seemed to me to be aiming at the kind of character that Bardem played in “No Country for Old Men,” a villain who had touches of abstraction about him, with suggestions that we should take him not just as an individual but as some kind of malicious force whirling through the world, hating and killing for its own sake—like the character The Misfit in Flannery O’Conner’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Are we seeing a resurgence of belief in the demonic, in De Debbil himself?