Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


THE DARK KNIGHT (2008). Director: Christopher Nolan.

During the first half of this very long movie I was thinking how much more entertaining the average cliffhanger serial from the forties is than The Dark Knight. With low-budgets and decidedly low-tech, those old serials had better-choreographed fight and action scenes than this movie does. The Dark Knight is slow and disjointed, badly-edited or badly-written or both -- and director Christopher Nolan isn't much help -- but luckily the movie picks up tremendously in the second half and sends the audience home fairly happy. I don't mind that The Dark Knight is intense and serious (if not exactly intellectual) but I wish it had been more fun and had a few more thrilling action sequences. The only thing that comes close is when Batman saves a woman who's been shoved off of a building, but this doesn't last very long. There's nothing in here like the climax of the otherwise moronic Batman and Robin with George Clooney.

Still the movie is saved by two excellent sequences late in the picture. In the first The Joker plants bombs on two ferries -- one with innocent Gotham citizens aboard, the other with criminals -- and tells each ferry that they can save themselves by using a switch to blow up the other ferry before midnight. Diabolical. (Although it seems odd that no one on the non-criminal ferry reminds the other passengers that there are also cops and guards on board the ferry with the crooks.) The other memorable sequence is a suspenseful climax with Two-Face, Batman, Jim Gordon, and his family where Two-Face holds a gun to Gordon's terrified little boy as The Batman waits to make his move.

The most dynamic performance in the film comes not from The Batman's Christian Bale (who's fine) or The Joker's Heath Ledger (who's vastly over-rated) but from the Harvey Dent/Two-Face of Aaron Eckhart. Ledger tries too hard for a more subdued Jim Carrey kind of approach, over-using those flicks of the tongue; he's not bad, just not that memorable. I was more impressed with Michael Caine's Alfred, as well as Morgan Freeman as Lucius, Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, and Eric Roberts as hood Moroni. Maggie Gyllenhaal is interesting casting in that she's not the "babe" you would think they'd cast in a movie like this, but she's undeniably effective in her own quiet way.

Although too long and slow, The Dark Knight has some good effects and amusing, even moving and surprising moments, to make it a good, if highly imperfect Batman epic. I have to say that it isn't quite as mindless as those great old serials, or at least it attempts to have a little more on its mind.

Verdict: You can't keep a good bat down. ***.

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