Friday, July 25, 2008

Better Late Than...

Look, The Common Man knows that he's a little late with this review. Heck, the movie opened a week ago. But between having to arrange childcare for The Boy, finding a time that both The Common Man and The Uncommon Wife could go, and not wanting to deal with obnoxious crowds, The Common Man feels like he did a pretty good job of getting out to the theater in a timely fashion. And it's a good thing, because The Common Man was totally geeked up when he finally got there.

Yet, The Uncommon Wife leaned in to get close to The Common Man as they entered the darkened theater. Very innocently, she mused that a co-worker had said that he didn't like The Dark Knight. Very sweetly, almost non-chalant. The Common Man's bulged wide, but he can understand that point of view, he supposes. The movie is incredibly dark and violent, after all. And perhaps most importantly, it isn't at all what moviegoers have come to expect from a superhero flick. Director Christopher Nolan constantly keeps his audience guessing with fake-outs and curveballs and red herrings. And while The Common Man may be willing to accept the fact that not everyone will like the new Batman movie (though the jury's still out on that), there is no denying that this is an excellent movie and that anyone who says otherwise is itching for a fight.

The film is impeccably cast. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine return, of course, from the first movie and are all very good. Maggie Gyllanhall does fine. And of course Heath Ledger shines (or slinks), more on him later though. And Aaron Eckardt is terrific as the pivot point around which the movie turns. Sure, the film stars and features Batman and The Joker, but Eckardt's Harvey Dent is the soul of the film.

More than anything, it is about him. The secondary casting choices are also excellent, however. Bit parts went to big time actors. William Fichner plays a pissed off bank manager. Michael Jai White is a mob boss, as is Eric Roberts. Anthony Michael Hall is a reporter. "That guy" actor Ron Dean plays a prominent role. And gravel voiced Keith Szarabajka (who Angel fans will recognize) seethes. It's like good actors were pounding on Nolan's door, begging to be part of this film.

The tone of the film is just so dark. Like the first film, there's not much to laugh at here. It's a punishing grind of murder and explosions. It's like a two-and-a-half hour root canal for your mind, as Bale, Eckhardt, Caine, Ledger, and Nolan play with your notions of heroism, bravery, and decency. And the conclusions that they come to about those things, and about the nature of humanity and our Dewmocracy will bend your brain.

Yet, it's gripping in a way that the first film was not. A large part of that is due to Heath Ledger's scintilating performance. His Joker oozes slime, hate, and bile. When he's on screen it's impossible not to feel greasy, but even harder to turn away. He's the worst kind of villain, one who hates himself but doesn't want to change. So in order to feel better about himself, he has to bring everyone else to his level. He's the antithesis of manliness.

The Common Man can certainly see how someone could buy into the hype surrounding Ledger's untimely death and it's connection to the movie and overrate his performance accordingly. However, that doesn't change the fact that Ledger has given one of the most memorable performances in modern movie history. His Joker, while not definitive, is iconic and will leave a mark in the minds of all those who see it.

If you haven't already, you should see this movie, as The Common Man believes it is destined to become a cultural touchstone. When critics and scholars and filmmakers look back on the current era of filmmaking, the era of blockbuster superhero/comic book action movies, they will have to talk about this film and its legacy on the superhero genre. And if you don't like it (though you really should), at least appreciate it for what it is: the most cerebral and intense film of its kind thusfar.

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