BATMAN: The Dark Night

30 07 2008
(No, I can spell. It’s irony, Auntie Mame.)
After a frightening opening bank robbery sequence, with a group of nasty clowns (a far less comical group of masked heisters than we see in Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 POINT BREAK), clowns who recur at surprising and disturbing moments, this film settles into a cozy, if sometimes garish, familiarity. Very nocturnal, very dark, very sadistic, very macho, very muscular, very close-up, very iconic (in its way), very explosive. There are numerous explosions, some red, some white, some pink, some off-blue. Trucks flip upside-down. Yes, there is an exploding helicopter. The city is full of evil, even normal people are evil. Will evil ever cease? Will anyone heal us? The mayor of Gotham, alone, seems relaxed, as though he has enough flunkies to take hits for him.

A particularly fantastic sequence, utterly exhilarating to watch, involves Bruce Wayne showing up in Hong Kong (we float in from high above), penetrating a CEO’s swank skyscraper lair, and then, in full Bat-gear, kidnapping him by sky-hook, so that the two of them are seized and lifted away by a passing military transport, out through a smashed picture window and up, up, up into the twilight. Wowie-kapowie!

The action scenes are very gripping but, sad to say, not particularly innovative. The performances have received considerable comment by very eager fans: all quite competent, smooth, and unblemished are the performances by Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Ritchie Coster, the too-briefly-appearing Cillian Murphy, and the toothy little Joshua Harto who’s gonna tell everybody who Batman really is. Heath Ledger is very good indeed, and is helped in his excessive mania by quasi-psychotic makeup and a funny voice (the sort that Jerry Lewis used to perfect with far less extravant response from his audience than this performance is getting). He is utterly believable as a creature both utterly brilliant and utterly spontaneous, although one of most affecting moments comes as he sits quiet and pensive, in elegiac light, in a jail cell. Aaron Eckhardt is a principal mainstay of the drama, effecting a transformation of real proportions in his spirit and facade (with facial makeup in the climax that recalls John Carpenter’s chilling THEY LIVE [1983]).

The film was made in Chicago, and anyone who loves that city will be entranced by the perfect lighting that captures it by day and by night so faithfully we never really believe Gotham City exists. But who cares? All this could happen in Chicago as well as anywhere, and we would be happy to see Batman save the day, as he does here. One sour note: having saved the life of a small child, the Caped Crusader strides away into the darkness. “Batman! Batman!” cries the little boy hopefully (like Brandon De Wilde at the end of SHANE [1953]), but this sulking creature actually doesn’t turn around and wave: Boo. As to the little boy’s father, the multifaceted performer Gary Oldman, go to see this film just for him.

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