David Levitsky

United States

Part time writer, full time learner and liver of life
Boston, Massachusetts
Tufts University

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The Dark Knight Film Review

January 13, 2016

The comic book standard that we knew and loved growing up has come out of the shadows with a new look. Christopher Nolan’s second installment in the Batman trilogy is anything but a “comic book movie”. A mix of criminal mystery, psychological thriller, and intense action, The Dark Knight challenges the conventions of what a superhero movie should be.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), billionaire playboy by day, guards Gotham by night as Batman. Supported by DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Lt.Gordon (Gary Oldman),  the trio wage a war on crime to clean the streets of the city, while trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and business partner Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) aid Batman behind the scenes. As Dent and Batman become intertangled in personal affairs, vying for the heart of Rachel Dawes, (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Wayne’s childhood friend and Dent’s girlfriend, a new threat emerges, looking to bring anarchy to Gotham. In a riveting and haunting performance, Heath Ledger (who would die after filming due to an overdose), manically portrays the Joker, a criminal mastermind, ruthless killer, and raving lunatic with all disregard for human life. The steel faced Batman sees his resolve pushed to the limit as his arch nemesis plunges Gotham into fear, outwitting the Dark Knight at every turn and plunging the defenders of the city down to his sadistic level.

Nolan eschews massive special effects and big brawls for a more nuanced script. Starting the film off with a masterfully executed bank robbery,where each clown masked henchmen takes one another out, the Joker is revealed in all his grotesqueness, with any humorous elements from the old comics replaced by caked white makeup, matted green hair, and knife scars on his mouth. Unlike the typical villain who wants world domination or endless wealth, the Clown Prince of Crime does his deeds for the thrill of violence, for the beauty of chaos, for the power of fear. Killing men with pencils, “savoring” the up closeness of knife killing, and causing city wide destruction all serve to advance the psychotic narrative inside the killer’s head, as we’re taken along for the ride quite literally with shots of the psycho's laughing face out of a speeding car window further infecting us with the chaos of the Clown. Even the symbols stoicism that protect Gotham are brought down to the Joker’s level as the villain’s psychological manipulation starts to mess with Dent and Batman, questioning how true heroism is, and how incorruptible heroes are. How far will Batman go to stop this threat to Gotham? Who is fair game in the game of cat and mouse? How do you stop someone who has nothing to lose? As much Machiavelli as macho, The Dark Knight brings up questions of morality, privacy, and psychology that will leave audiences pondering the world that greets them outside the cinema.

Set to the legendary Hans Zimmer’s score, The Dark Knight feels epic  and fiercely tense all at once, with the sound of rising pressure underscoring intense moments with the Joker and almost operatic sounds highlighting the last efforts of Batman to save his city. Moments of uneasy silence build to massive crescendoes of sound as the action intensifies and the plot races to a fiery ultimatum.  A range of instrumentation, from orchestral to modern, could stand alone as a monumental work of art, and paired with the action on screen, Zimmer’s work only enhances the already organic feel of Nolan’s story in Gotham. Shot in the streets of Chicago, Gotham has a gritty feel to it, rooting the story in reality and blurring the lines of what a superhero movie should look like. With the tangibility of Gotham comes the people within it, who are humans just like you and me.  The Dark Knight has no super villains and superheroes. For all his crime fighting prowess and technology, Batman at the end of the day is just Bruce Wayne behind a mask, a man, just as the psychopathic Joker is a man behind his white dried makeup. The awesome struggle against good and evil may not be so polar, as the unflinching justice and unbridled chaos of the Bat and the Clown seem to intertwine, and even feed off of each other. The words of Harvey Dent, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”, forever change the way we will see the beloved Batman, and all heros for that matter.

This complex and realist take on the classic superhero movie will have you gasping in shock, on edge in anticipation, and questioning the basis of what a hero is. Giving the bad guy as much shine as the title grabbing hero, Nolan’s genre-transcending story coupled with the Oscar (posthumous) performance of Ledger and visual representation of the world of Gotham, make The Dark Knight not just one of the greatest superhero movies of all time, but one of the greatest movies period.


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  • January 13, 2016 - 1:57pm (Now Viewing)

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