Rating: 3.5 stars
Halfway through The Dark Knight, I realized that it reminded me of another film I had seen in the past year.
The Incredible Hulk?
Try No Country For Old Men. Yes, director Christopher Nolan is dealing with themes as dark and resonant as those explored by the Coen Brothers in their Oscar winner. There are even a few handy corollaries.
Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh can be easily replaced by Heath Ledger’s Joker. Both characters represent a new kind of villain—sick, amoral, hellbent for destruction. While Bardem's Chigurh was eerily calm and methodical, Ledger’s Joker is a twitching, chortling, punk rock goblin. The performance of the late young actor is as good as advertised (almost too good, the film sags a bit when he’s not on screen).
In place of Tommy Lee Jones’ wizened sheriff Bell, we have three men:
There’s idealistic District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who, like Chigurh, flips a coin to determine the fate of himself and others (a clue to his character’s dastardly fate?). There’s old school police lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), who remains the film’s honorable voice of the law. And mostly we have the Dark Knight himself, Batman (Christian Bale.) Like Jones’ sheriff, Batman knows that evil for evil’s sake can not be defeated in traditional or savory ways. Unlike Bell, he doesn’t give up.
If it all sounds like heady stuff, well, it is. Sure, The Dark Knight is a thrill ride with the requisite jolts of adrenaline and black humor (provided mostly by Ledger’s dazzling Joker). But it’s also a grim examination of vigilante justice, heroism, and man’s need for order.
At times, Nolan spells out his themes too clearly—he doesn’t seem to trust the audience to figure out anything on its own. I hate when filmmakers do that!
That being said, I actually appreciate Nolan’s lucidity as a director. Often, directors of big-budget action films seem to get lost in their own clutter. Nolan manages to orchestrate this busy, special-effects-laden spectacle with surgeon-like precision.
It doesn’t hurt that along for the ride again are veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, grounding the film with their moral clarity and wily intelligence; and new addition Maggie Gyllenhaal, who replaces Katie Holmes as assistant DA Rachel Dawes. (Upgrade!)
As No Country for Old Men was as much horror film as western, the same is true of The Dark Knight, which is as much nightmare as it is joyride. Sure, it’s a superhero movie, but it’s actually quite chilling, just the way the Joker would like it.