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"The Dark Knight" *** 1/2 (152 minutes)

Wednesday July 16, 2008

Next February, they can toss The Oscar into his casket. And not because Hollywood was in love and is still mourning the loss of one of it’s fiercest rising stars. No, it’s because he richly deserved it, bringing total poignancy and sadness to the proceedings when Heath Ledger becomes the 2nd posthumous recipient to receive an Oscar (the first being Peter Finch when he won the Best Actor award for his role in the 1977 masterpiece “Network”). His performance is so powerful and charismatic, and so utterly unforgettable (I wrote the same thing in an earlier post about Daniel Day Lewis after screening “There Will Be Blood”) that the film actually suffers slightly when he's not on the screen. Christopher Nolan directs the wildly entertaining follow-up to his 2005 “Batman Begins” with Christian Bale (Batman), Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman repeating their roles (the great Maggie Gyllenhaal has taken over the role formerly occupied by Katie Holmes), while adding veteran indy actor Aaron Eckhart, veteran everything actor Michael Caine, and longtime character actor Eric Roberts as a mob boss. What a cast, what a story, and what a movie! From the opening 10 minute bank robbery to the incredible climax where 2 boatloads of people have to decide which one is going to blow the other one up first, you won’t have time to check your clock to see when it all will end-or want to for that matter. And what really sets this one apart from most of the other comic book/superhero flicks is the wonderful script by Christopher and his sibling Jonathan that allows Hedger to sink his nuanced chops into a character that will catapult him in filmdom lore forever. The bare bones plot: The brooding Bruce Wayne/Batman is having second thoughts about being the person to erase crime from Gotham City once and for all. Better to pass the task to someone else. His selection is none other than the handsome DA, Harvey Dent (Eckhart). Totally smitten by Batman’s previous love interest (Gyllenhaal), Dent reluctantly proceeds to try and become Gotham’s #1 hero while simultaneously trying to win over his assistant-who is still in love with Batman. Lurking behind all this is Hedger’s Joker who throughout the film is continuously creating chaos by playing the good guys against the bad guys-and against each other. The result: turning good guy Dent into one hideous looking bad guy-turning the plot on its ear over the final 45 minutes of playing time. I realized after the film ended that, for all of its, excuse the expression, comic book violence, there is barely any blood visible during the entire 152 minutes. The score by 2 of Hollywood's finest, Han Zimmer and James Newton Howard, is nothing short of spectacular and only adds to the mix. The only fault I had was that I was disappointed in Maggie’s part. She does the best with it, but, after finally landing a huge non-indy role, her character is not the memorable one she is capable of delivering (rent “Sherrybaby” to see one of the best performances by an actress in any year). I met Christopher Nolan in 1999 when he was present in a small screening room on Main Street in Park City at the Slamdance Film Festival (the alternative Sundance Film Festival) where his inaugural film "Following" had just won the Black & White Award. (Rent it! The film is wonderful!!) Since then, he has gone onto to become one of the planets most successful and talented filmmakers. This noir masterpiece will only add to an already glowing resume.