I'm still trying to take in all of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight -- a movie I watched just a few days ago in IMAX-- and this is a good thing. A very good thing. The movie sticks with you, gets under your skin in ways that surprise you hours later and, even better (or worse, depending on your mood) makes you ponder everything from the hypocritical nature of mankind to current politics to...ah yes, the tragic loss of Heath Ledger -- something that's even more potentely poigant while watching this wonderfully dark picture.
As I had mourned earlier in an essay on Ledger, we've lost one of the greats. (So be warned, this isn't exactly a strict movie review, but a celebration of Ledger's performance. I keep recalling James Dean's brilliance in his last movie, Giant, a picture in which he too revealed his transformative powers by going from gorgeous young man to bitter, old drunk.)
The usual suspects are present of course: a fantastic Christian Bale -- one of the greatest actors working -- as Bruce Wayne, the legendary, sweet Michael Caine, the wonderfully understated Gary Oldman (playing a nice guy -- I love it) and the always perfect Morgan Freeman (can that man possibly achieve a bad performance?). Also appearing is Maggie Gyllenhaal, who replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal is a vast improvement -- intelligent and slinky -- you totally understand why a guy who can get whatever he wants, wants her). There's also Aaron Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent -- primed to become Two Face and again, a brilliant, crazed and yet, oddly soulful Ledger.
Which brings me to the heart of the, at times, sublime The Dark Knight -- as Ledger's Joker shows us (and forces upon Harvey Dent), the world is a place of two faces, of darkness and light, of organization and chaos. Gotham City's criminal underbelly is a reflection of a world we sometimes walk through with willfull ignorance, not realizing we are part of such chaos and destruction. Or, at the very least, we allow it to happen around us -- as long as we're warned.
The Joker doesn't want us to be warned -- he thrives on chaos, cannot be bought and has no glorious plan. He's the Tyler Durden of Super-villains and, as such, will become something of a cult figure with this character. His philosophy isn't exactly a new one (watch some film noir for prime examples) but Nolan and Ledger make it fresh and inspired. And since these ideas are universal, it's hard to not understand where The Joker is coming from. At times (and this might be a stretch for some, but not for me) it's even hard to dislike him. At times I fought the urge of punching my fist in the air in anarcharic solidarity -- Ledger's Joker is my new evil hero. He's a psycho sexy beast of destruction. Believe the hype -- he's that great.
Bale is terrific in The Dark Knight, but this is Ledger's movie all the way. Watching him watch the world burn, I couldn't help but think... damn if he couldn't have returned to burn it down a little more.