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The Dark Knight (2008): ***½

Directed by Christopher Nolan

What a haunting, epic, ordeal of a movie. This is the kind of movie that works its way into your bones in such a way that you lose yourself into it completely and you simply cannot shake it off. It becomes a part of you, an event that transcends merely watching a movie and becomes a life event. It is beautiful. Dark. Tragic. Nightmarish. Wonderful. And yet...

There are small things, here and there, that send up red flags in my memory. Little "Huh?" moments where something just doesn't work right, or rings false, or is presented in such a way that you don't know why it happened, or even what exactly happened.

Case in point: Late in the movie a character goes on a bit of a rampage and kills two people explicitly and it is implied that a third is killed. One of the characters was a cop. But towards the end of the film Gordon says, "Five people dead, two of them cops!" I feel like something important might have been cut out. Plus, how did Gordon even know that the character was responsible for those specific murders in the first place? There were no witnesses at either crime scene.

Another case: Joker throws Rachel out of Bruce's penthouse. Batman dives after her and saves her. But how, exactly? The editing and camerawork were so choppy that I saw the movie twice and still can't figure out how they survived a 50-story fall. The editing in the movie is generally pretty poor. Oh, also, after they survive, the movie simply cuts to the next day. Did Batman not go back up to the penthouse to make sure that everybody else was okay, or to see if Joker and his goons were still up there, or to see if he could find any clues?

That's probably my biggest pet peeve in this movie. In the comics and in the Bruce Timm cartoons, Batman is a certified genius when it comes to solving crimes. He is known, literally, as the Wold's Greatest Detective, and his detection skills are so good that supervillain Ra'as Al-Ghul refers to him only as "Detective," not as "Batman" at all.

But the Batman of The Dark Knight, while an excellent crime fighter, is a rather poor crime solver. Joker sends out boatloads of clues, including a video of him tormenting/murdering a Batman copycat, and including being physically present in Batman's own penthouse fer chrissake, and Batman can't get any clues from these things, and in fact doesn't even seem to be trying. He runs a facial recognition program on Joker's video, but that's it. He doesn't try to figure out where it was filmed. He doesn't scour his penthouse for scraps of evidence left behind by Joker or his goons.

The only bit of detective work in the whole film is an overly-complicated procedure to get a fingerprint off of a fragmented bullet stuck in a wall in order to find the address of a goon. The only way he is able to find anything at all on the Joker is through a highly illegal and morally disgusting eavesdropping scheme involving all of Gotham's cell phones.

If there is another thing that distinguishes Batman from almost all other superheroes is the idea that Batman is probably the most careful person in the universe. The real Batman will go out of his way to make sure that NOBODY ever gets killed for any reason. But in this movie we have him recklessly destroying property like parked cars by crushing them with the Batmobile or blowing them up with rockets. How did he know that a transient (or the owner) hadn't snuck into the backseat to take a nap? Also, he flips a semi with several people inside. With that kind of impact it is only through sheer luck that nobody was mortally injured. And at the very end of the movie Batman's actions lead directly to a death. No, that's not quite right; it's more like Batman actively kills someone. Shockingly careless, and it rang false to me every time.

I understand that Bruce Wayne has only been Batman for a year by the time this movie's events transpire. I could forgive his un-Batman-ly behavior in Batman Begins because he was just starting out so he was bound to make rookie mistakes and bad decisions. But I just want Batman to actually be in the next Batman movie.

That said, director Nolan and Christian Bale have a great take on Bruce Wayne, easily the best Bruce Wayne of any Batman movie. At the end of Batman Begins, Rachel tells him that she believes that Batman is the real person and that Bruce Wayne is the mask. But in this movie we see that that isn't quite true, at least not yet. Bruce still has thoughts of giving up his role as Batman when he isn't needed anymore. He still has dreams of leading a normal life. You get the sense that he still thinks of himself as Bruce Wayne (the real Bruce Wayne, not the billionaire playboy image he shows to the public) putting on a Bat costume. Events during the course of the movie serve to strip him of all hopes of ever being able to put Batman behind him, and at the end of the movie it seems like, finally, Bruce Wayne is actually gone and that Batman is now the real identity. Rachel turned out to be right, she was just one movie ending too early.

Now let's get down to it: This movie, aforementioned quibbles aside, is brilliant.

I can't say anything more about Heath Ledger's performance as the joker than anybody else has said. You've probably seen it by now; you KNOW how good it was.

The cinematography manages to be bright and gritty at the same time, and the fact that Gotham looks like a real city instead of a gothic nightmare of a city actually grew on me in this film; it helped make it more realistic and therefore frightening. The music is absolutely brilliant, probably one of my favorite scores in years and years. It never lets you rest. And Joker's jagged, teeth-gritting, single-note theme is terrifying. It puts all your nerves on edge. The supporting cast is all top-notch. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman especially stand out as Alfred and Gordon.

The Dark Knight works best as an allegory, not as a logical, consistent story. In its heart it is about four men (Batman, Joker, Dent, and Gordon) and the lengths they're willing to go to and the compromises they're willing to make for their principles, and the horrible prices that they have to pay because of those principles, and the awful, haunting consequences they're forced to live with afterwards.

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