The Darkest Knight

I came to Hong Kong to see the Dark Knight.

Yes, it’s really good, probably the best comic book movie made, and yes, Ledger is really good as The Joker, but amidst it all the man who is getting least praise is the man who deserves the most–Christopher Nolan. He co-wrote it and he directed it, and it is he who should be lauded.

Nolan has easily also made the darkest, bleakest superhero movie yet, one which actually does plum the depths of the soul.  It’s not the bleakness of Se7en, but it’s close.  The movies are stunningly similar in important ways, not just because of stolid and moral Morgan Freeman.  But where Brad Pitt fails John Doe’s test,  Batman passes the Joker’s, not succumbing to the Joker’s machinations, and the people on the boats pass in sacrificing themselves, which is something Batman does as well. But rousing moments of glory they are not, buried in the dark photography which rivals Khondji’s work on Se7en, and buried in the torment which the tests have brought up.

Watch Nolan’s movies, from Memento on up. They are all about human nature and tests and what we can do. But watch them for more than that. Watch them for how he works with the actors, which is why I think he deserves a lot of the credit for Ledger’s performance.

The performances, all of them, from Carrie-Ann Moss’s in Mememto, to Robin Williams’s in Insomnia, to Hugh Jackman’s in The Prestige, are top notch, and from people not noted for their acting ability. Hell, he even tames Pacino’s Godzilla like scene munching. Nolan knows how to direct his actors and get exactly what he needs.

The peformances are nuanced and subtle and he knows where to put the camera and what lens to use. Watch Ledger walk out of the hospital. A lovely shot that pulls back to a full height mid-shot that shows his socks and shoes and all the akimbo posturing of Ledger’s Joker.  This skill to show us the actor seems to have been forgotten in the race to proclaim Ledger’s performance one for the ages. It is not. It is a great one and a great counterpart to Nicholson’s careening psychotic.

Nolan and Ledger’s Joker is more like the riddler, an enigma like John Doe. He comes in and leaves the movie as a mystery. Unexplained. A force of chaos more than a man, but a chaos of meticulous planning and execution. Of course, we are enthralled with such clever and diaobolical people. We love the criminal mastermind, particularly one which is the true rebel, beholden to no organisation. But we also like the ones who have their own code of laws, their own honour, and the Joker has none of that, just his raging misanthropy, which is why we reject him.

i don’t wish to take anything away from Ledger, who, again, showed us that he was an uncannily subtle actor, and i think even without the make-up he would have been unrecognizable. But I think the movie really worked because it all did and if the rest of the movie hadn’t been as determined as it was, Ledger’s performance would not have worked at all because it would not have had anything to work against. And that falls to Nolan.

I wish I could see it again before I leave. It deserves another watching. This time I could watch Gary Oldman a little more.  It’s hard to play good, upright, stolid and normal and he was awesome.

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One response to “The Darkest Knight

  1. Thank you for acknowledging Nolan. Ledger AND Nolan both deserve credit for the anarchic interpretation of the Joker.

    Nolan astounds me. I read an EW article about the film, and how people panicked when Heath Ledger died: “What about reshoots? etc.” And Nolan just said, “I’m not worried. I’ve never had to do more than loop a couple lines in any of my films.”

    The fact that he gets perfect coverage the first time shows that he knows EXACTLY what he wants as a director– and there is no better kind of a director than one who knows EXACTLY what he wants– and executes it perfectly the first time.

    Before I die I really want to work with Nolan!

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