Many may associate films based on comic books with words such as sophomoric, pedestrian, or simple. Writer-director Christopher Nolan's 2008 film The Dark Knight based on the stories and characters associated with DC Comics Batman and budgeted at $185 millionshatters such expectations with a complex, intricate story, an impressive cast, and brilliant direction and cinematography. The plot sees the vigilante Batman (Christian Bale), who is secretly billionaire Bruce Wayne, teaming up with policeman Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to take down organized crime in Gotham City. Standing in their way is the deadly and unpredictable Joker (Heath Ledger), a criminal with no rules, no mercy, and a plan to tear Gotham apart.
The story, penned by Nolan and writer David S. Goyer, is far from your typical superhero fare. It is a grounded and serious narrative about human limits and the risk of betraying ones principles in the fight against injustice. Our hero is a physical manifestation of these issues; not only is he caught between two lives, but he must also ask himself how far he is willing to go in order to keep his city safe. This psychological battle and moral quandary is the driving force behind the hard-hitting, gripping tale in the film, shedding light on the nature of consequences and responsibility. It creates effective and lasting tension, engages and excites, and beckons thoughtful analysis regarding what is truly right and wrong and where lines must be drawn.
One cannot ignore the engaging and memorable performances. Bale absolutely nails the two distinct lives of his character, capturing the feigned naivet頯f Bruce Wayne and the intelligence, determination, and iron will of Batman. Eckharts Dent exudes the aura of an idealized and trustworthy figure that can fight crime using the law instead of operating outside it like Batman. Oldman has a believable, relatable turn as the common man who is balanced between realism and cynicism. The standout in the large ensemble cast is most certainly Ledger, whose role as the Joker can be described as an intriguing blend of charisma, menace, insanity, and calculation. Ledger steals the show in nearly every scene he is in with a commanding presence that one simply canít look away from.
The cinematography, which is very kinetic and fast-paced, complements the plot and tone of the film well. Though quiet, slow-burning moments of solid drama and tragedy are present, Nolans direction mostly involves intensity and ferocity that gradually build. The action sequences in the film excel at fitting that description, but even scenes that are in smaller, confined spaces can generate the same kind of adrenaline rush. There is an interrogation scene that perfectly exemplifies this; the two characters in the scene are engaged in a tense psychological battle, each one attempting to get into the others head. Scenes such as this one speak volumes about Nolans ability to put the audience on edge both with and without fights or chases.
The Dark Knight was met with much critical acclaim. It was largely viewed as a then-new standard for comic book movies and a clear indication that the genre has dramatic and impactful potential. Personally, I must agree with these sentiments; it is a groundbreaking film that doesnít rely on superhero tropes or clich鳬 instead opting for a mature, compelling, and surprisingly realistic take on a popular comic book character. It is gritty, powerful, exciting, and richly cinematic, delivering on every level and firing on all cylinders from beginning to end.