Saturday, July 26, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT

***Not sure why, but it seems that at least 2 comments disappeared from this post. I'm trying to find out from Blogger why this happened. I didn't want anyone to think I was deleting comments.***


The bursting $300 million dollar - in less than two weeks - popularity of The Dark Knight isn't surprising. In fact, it's the perfect film to serve as the centerpiece for the 2008 summer season. It signifies where we're at in film culture: a place were sadism sells (it's replaced sex), nihilism rules (it's replaced rebellion), and gutter cinematography is cool (it's replaced spectacle).

If you thought people over rated Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy, then the hyperbole surrounding The Dark Knight will spin you towards the exit doors. Even critics who should know better are calling it "audacious", "a gold standard", a "symphony". This is proof that our standards have lowered.

The Dark Knight also solidifies how disinterested Christopher Nolan continues to be in communicating with his audience. Like Tony Scott exploiting the pain of Hurricane Katrina victims in his dreadful Deja Vu, Nolan taps the pain and panic of New Yorkers during 9/11 and clumsily tries to fold it into a soft-headed critique of our government's intrusive power grab. In contrast, superior filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg have used their own fictional films (World Trade Center and War Of The Worlds) to invoke the anxiety and fear Americans felt on that day and used it to create compassionate, empathetic art.

But Nolan is like fellow opportunist Paul Greengrass, taking real-life tragedy and crafting nouveau action passages out of it. Sitting through this two and a half hour dreck (Nolan's attempt at an epic...) simply reinforces the outlandishness of the UK Guardian's recent comparison of Nolan to Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.

Once the The Dark Knight starts, Nolan wastes little time before setting us up for another of his dreary dystopian dream lands. The Joker stands on the corner opposite from the bank he's about to rob, holding a dirty, mopey clown mask. Nolan's camera calmly adores it like the blank, soulless world view he subscribes to. In fact, Heath Ledger's overall interpretation of The Joker isn't far from modern cinemas other nihilistic, self-righteous killers John Doe (from Se7en) & Jigsaw (from Saw). Sadly, film goers have latched onto these creeps as some kind of band of iconic anti-heroes who preach ugly truths while on their (and our) way to hell.

Nolan gives The Joker his moment when a henchman gets greedy about his share of the stolen loot. In an act of self-sacrifice, The Joker burns his own half and waxes anti-capitalistic about the ills of money; it's his "right on!" moment. The scene is sure to excite charged-up bobos who feign outrage at this type of soporific money-is-evil message only because they already have enough in their bank accounts to grant them the free time to go on-and-on pretending like they actually hate it.

But it is The Dark Knight's veiled brutality that truly disgusts. To score that crucial PG-13 rating, Nolan calculated his cutaways in a method that kept his film safe enough for the kiddos yet sick enough for blood lusting fan boys to get all giggly over. When The Joker forces three hoods into a battle-to-the-death match with only a broken pool cue as a weapon, it's as appalling as a Rob Zombie murder sequence. Not showing the action doesn't hide the tendency. It's simply softcore sadism.

Like most hacks, the violence and action staged by Nolan simply exists to illicit reactions of "whoa!" and "cool" from the audience (to hacks, that is a sign of success). "That was so awesome!", a guy in front of me said when Eric Roberts' character fell from a roof and snapped his ankles in a cracking close-up.

Ten years ago The Dark Knight would have been dismissed as a rehash of The Crow. How soon we forget, these days, and how quickly we forgive poor film making. Having a dry period of quality doesn't mean you need to prop up paper monuments in the meantime. Wait it out. The cycle will refresh itself.

In the meantime, send Christopher Nolan some e-mails asking...

WHY SO SADISTIC???

20 comments:

JOSEPH CAMPANELLA said...

THE DARK KNIGHT is not only a great summer film, but a great film anytime.

I'm not one to praise Nolan, I think he knows what he's doing, but comparisons to Hitchcock or Kubrick are beyond laughable.

I don't feel like the DARK KNIGHT is exploitive. I think it's actually the first of the Batman films to get the story right. The Joker is a madman. Madmen do things like stick pencils in peoples eyes. Burn billions in cash. Blow up hospitals. It happens every day.To punish the DARK KNIGHT for being realistic is silly.

I live in Chicago. A city which has, within the span of a few months, become the murder capital of the US. It was very strange watching this film, using Chicago as a stand in for Gotham. If anything I was saying, this is where we're headed if people don't start doing something about it.

Ledger was great. Oldman was great. Everyone else was equally as great.

I agree on the PG-13, but that's a studio thing. They would never have the balls to let anyone make a Batman picture R-rated, which is how it should be made.

Graham said...

If you think Spielberg and Stone are superior to Greengrass and Nolan, maybe you need to watch Bloody Sunday, Memento, Hook, and Alexander all together, and see what you think.

I definitely think Nolan is a better director than Hitchcock or Kubrick - hell, than Hitchcock and Kubrick combined. But although I like Nolan a lot, that's more about how I find those two to be the most overrated directors ever to make long, slow, boring, rigid, psychotically controlled films.

Fletch said...

I'll just say that I think there's a big difference between a sadistic film and a film about a sadist. This clearly falls into the latter.

Yih said...

when anyone writes a dark knight review that doesn't start with "it was awesome," you know he's going to get pummelled. I won't be one of them.

It is kind of ridiculous how overrated and defensive people get about this movie.

I will say that I disagree with you on many points. As a New Yorker who was three blocks away from WTC on 9/11, Greengrass' film resonated more with me than Stone's. Though the film basks in its sadism and nihilism, the war in the movie is won by batman who believes gotham is worth saving, that people are not internally evil no matter how much you push them. Just to name a few.

BUT I do enjoy and respect your opinion and it's much more refreshing to hear a critique that is actually critical instead of gushing fanboys wetting their pants with the very words...why so seroius?

Graham said...

Fletch, I have to disagree with you about this film not being sadistic. I think it is deeply sadistic, but not in the way you're thinking.

A sadistic film, like a true sadist, doesn't glory in making someone feel pain. It glories in making someone feel what they want them to feel. This makes Hitchcock and Spielberg the two most sadistic directors ever, even if Spielberg was a big softy: although the emotions he wants you to feel are nice happy ones, he wants to be in control of those emotions every bit as much as Hitchcock does.

This explains why some people just hate The Dark Knight, when almost no one hated Batman Begins. Batman Begins wasn't really sadistic - it wasn't very interested in making you feel a certain way. But The Dark Knight was sadistic. And if a director sets out to make you feel a certain way, and fails, you're liable to leave a movie theater wondering why everyone else cared. Sadistic filmmaking usually has the biggest chance of emotional success, but it also risks being completely ignored.

Domenico said...

graham-

Nolan and Greengrass are better than Kubrick and Spielberg!?

That belongs in one of Fletch's OUTLANDISH STATEMENT posts. And even there I think it just may be the craziest thing anyone has ever said about the cinema.

Graham said...

Yeah, see, but I don't like Kubrick and Spielberg.

Michael said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for expressing this better than I ever could (and believe me, I tried). I'm glad I at least disagree with one point--I think Greengrass is exceptional--but aside from that, you hit the nail on the head. Great stuff! --tully

Fox said...

Thanks for everyone's comments...

I would have responded sooner if I wasn't out seeing Step Brothers. :)

I know we will just agree to disagree on this movie, but as I said to my wife last night - she liked it, btw - I really wanna know why people liked it. I've avoided reading most of y'alls takes on it until I'd seen it, so I plan on catching up ASAP.

Joseph -

What keeps me from liking Chris Nolan's work is that I strongly disagree with his world view. I don't mean that I disagree that there is evil, murder, corruption. What I mean is that, to me, he views the world as a dreary, and hopeless place.

What bothers me about Nolan's violence in TDK - using the pencil in the eye, for example - is that he stages it to get applause, and nothing else. Perhaps if he were making a screwy, wacked-out, goofy film that would work for me, but he's straining for seriousness.

I agree with you about Oldman, though. I think he was the best thing in the film. Ledger was good, but best actor quality??? nah. And, maybe it's just me, but I thought Maggie Gyllenhal was atrocious.

Graham -

I don't know what to say. I guess we just disagree. You seem to love Nolan and Greengrass as much as I do Spielberg. I guess we could bicker it out, but that could be a blog in itself. :)

Oliver Stone is not a favorite of mine, but I thought World Trade Center was outstanding. He's not as consistent for me as Spielberg is. For example, I think Natural Born Killers, Heaven & Earth, and Born On the 4th of July are bad, but I like Talk Radio, Salvador, Wall Street, and Any Given Sunday. [NOTE: To be fair, I should see Natural Born Killers again, cuz it's been at least a decade.

Fletch -

I respectfully disagree that The Dark Knight isn't sadistic. I guess I would go back to what I said to Joseph in that I feel Nolan plays the violence - and Ledger's wagging tongue - for kicks, but it's an interesting perspective you bring up, and it's making me think about some of the scenes that bothered me the most.

Yih -

What I found offensive about Greengrass's 9/11 film is that he perverted a horrific event by doubling it as an action film. He used his kinetic camera style to play off the terror the passengers must have felt that day. Further, he wanted us to feel what it must've felt like to be on flight 93. Granted, it shook me, it made me cry, but I found it pornographic. It made me sick to my stomach.

And in TDK, the only moment where the people of Gotham feel united, human, optomistic is in the "boat sequence". But the sequence failed for me b/c it felt so condescending (the enlightened prisoner being the true moral savoir). In fact, this is why I think Nolan's a hack. He doesn't appear to understand anything about humanity. He's clumsy in his regards. Spielberg, Stone, Kubrick, and Hitchcock think/thought about the sensibilities and desires of real people when they make/made their films. This comes back to his world view again. Not only is it dreary, but it's simple-minded. Which in turn is why I think his films are dreary. He feels the way he feels b/c he lives in a bubble.

Good thoughts, everybody!

Fox said...

Thanks for the kind words Michael, I'm heading over to read your take on it right now! :)

debbie said...

Maggie Gyllenhal. WORST PERFORMANCE EVER!

Annoyed.

Fox said...

Oh, Debbie. Thank you. I was looking for some partnership on that opinion and I had yet to find it.

How freakin' dull was she??? Talk about misplaced casting! She seemed like she didn't want to even be there. However, maybe it's just reflective of her director.

debbie said...

Thank god they killed off Rachel.

I enjoyed Batman. I went to the theater with low expectations, as I do every movie these days. It is a sad state of affairs when we have to lessen our standards in order to be entertained.

My favorite character of the movie? Bruce Wayne. But, I hate the way Bale plays Batman. Soo drab. I liked Ledger...but over-the-top dramatic roles are always the easiest to play.

The Fraze said...

I don't know if I could disagree more really - To call Christopher Nolan a hack seems, outlandish really. You write well, but your review is filled with more assumption than informed opinion - listening to Nolan speak about the filmmaking process in interviews and DVD features shows instantly that he isn't a hack and that he has a deep understanding for character and humanity.

It's a great film - though there are a lot of little plot holes or unanswered questions, but the overall experience was a very moving one for me. I'm thankful that finally someone got Batman right inside and out.

Fox said...

Debbie -

Kat and I had a disagreement about Ledger along the lines of what you mentioned. I said that seems to me it would be easier to put on makeup and go on like a weirdo instead of a playing, say, the Gary Oldman role. I don't mean that to insult Ledger b/c I think he did it fine, I just don't think it would rank as end of the year honors acting.

Thanks for your comments.

Fraze -

Hack may seem harsh, but I feel I need to use it when people are labeling Nolan as some type of new auteur. That seems outlandish to me.

I don't think Nolan is incompetent. He's probably a hard-working, efficient filmmaker.

But where he excels in technical prowess, he lacks in artistry. I simply think he's deficient as an artist.

Even as straight-up action director, I don't feel he's learned how to express anything. He should learn how to think outside of the material he is given (ie whatever TDK is based on) instead of worrying how accurately he can bring it to the screen.

For me, watching TDK was no different than watching, say, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow or Mr. And Mrs. Smith ... just a lot of noise on screen making a flatline straight to my head and heart.

Luke Harrington said...

While I don't agree with all of your negative assessments, it's nice to hear from a reviewer who didn't fall for the hype hook, line, and sinker. I agree that Nolan has been vastly overrated by the fanboys and that he clearly doesn't understand humanity.

Most critics seem to be granting TDK a pass because it has "themes" -- and never mind whether it explores the themes effectively or honestly. Apparently, mere possession of "themes" is enough to wow.

Joseph, TDK deserves to be punished for attempting realism. Why? Because it's about a guy in a friggin' rubber bat suit. Trying to shoehorn that into realism is idiotic, even if Nolan does almost make it work.

Graham said...

Luke, I think you and everyone else who are using the term "realism" are misguided. I read once that Spielberg reduced the color in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan by 50% to make it more "realistic." I found that hilarious - altering the colors of the real world don't make it more realistic. It makes it grittier.

What Nolan did is something far outside the realms of realism, which is a stylistics of the probable. What people have mistaken for realism is actually:
1. Grittiness
2. An insistence on possibility - not making something that is probable (which would be realistic) but merely something that is possible, ie not fantastical

Luke Harrington said...

Well Graham, I was using Joel's word. I don't think I would have chosen that particular phraseology if had been speaking for myself.

Though I would argue that Spielberg has a pretty tenuous grasp on what's "realistic." :)

Fox said...

Graham -

Well said, and I think you make good points and distinctions.

Still, it is that same grittiness that Nolan uses in breaking out of the fantastical that attempts to make Gotham feel like it is a part of our "real" world.

Maybe we are agreeing there.

But where it sounds like we disagree is that I would've preferred to see The Dark Knight be more fantastical. I think that by making his vision gritty, he sucked the spectacle out of the film... which, to me, was a bummer for a film that - to steal Luke's words - is about a dude in a rubber suit.

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