The House of Caine: The Dark Knight

When The Dark Knight (2008) opened, it was an unstoppable behemoth, demolishing box office records whilst simultaneously garnering critical praise rarely seen for any film, let alone a comic book based major studio release. As time has passed, it has been slightly fashionable to put the film down, even if only a little. To say that the hype over Heath Ledger’s passing and posthumous Oscar skewed perception of the film.


I think that is a little unfair. Sure you can quibble with some aspects of the film, pick tiny plot holes or discuss the occasional pacing issues. But this is an incredible piece of mainstream filmmaking, that from the excellent opening set piece bank robbery never really lets you go. And yes, Heath Ledger as the Joker delivers one of the best performances that I have ever seen on screen. I don’t know that it is possible to exaggerate just how good he is in the film. Plot wise, the film is focused on Christian Bale’s Batman going up against the Joker, whilst dealing with both his place in the city of Gotham and in particular his relationship with his beloved Rachael (Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes in this second film) who is now dating the dreamy new District Attorney Harvey Dent. Obviously that is a rather simplistic rendering of the story, but the film is predominately driven by all the incredible work that surrounds this basic plot.

Plenty of analysis of the film focuses on Ledger’s performance, which is understandable because it would be criminal not to highlight it in any examination of the film. But there is plenty more that makes this film so good. There are some great subtleties to the script, including some lighter moments. Comic book films tend to either be totally dark or totally light and fluffy. The Dark Knight definitely leans to the former, but is never too onerous and the occasional lightening of proceedings definitely helps in that regard. In terms of the shooting, Nolan is fantastic at getting the relatively epic scale just right. You can definitely feel that it was shot for the IMAX format and even just on blu-ray on my average sized TV, the cityscapes that paint out Gotham look amazing. There is a real sense as the film progresses that it is close to a perfect merging of craft and art. A couple of times throughout I found myself tearing up watching this film, at points where I had not in other viewings, such was the power of what was on screen.

dark-knight-michael-caine-christopher-nolanOut of the three Nolan Batman films, this is the one in which Michael Caine’s Alfred plays the most integral role. For a minor supporting role, this character is really well fleshed out. Alfred is simultaneously Bruce Wayne’s best (and only) friend, as well as his confidante. They have a wonderfully light patter between them but Alfred is also the one looking out for him, the mother waiting up worried sick when he has been out all night. Quite importantly too, Alfred is the only person who is willing to remind Batman (well at least Bruce) that he has limits. In fact Alfred is probably the most well written character in the film, perfectly combining narrative function with great dialogue. Now back to Ledger. His Joker is an incredibly evil creation, ‘a man who just wants to watch the world burn’. Indeed I cannot think of a truly mainstream film with a more evil character at its core. The performance is staggeringly good. Ledger will make you stare at the screen, jaw dropped in astonishment. He will make you feel chilled to the core. And yes, there is no denying that watching the performance will make you lament that Ledger is no longer with us but also rejoice that he was able to reach these heights before he died. Ledger leads a pretty amazing ensemble cast, the equal of any film of the last 20 years – Bale, Ledger, Caine, Eckhart and Oldman, all at the top of their game, really rams the film home. Only Maggie Gyllenhaal is a slight letdown for me. I can’t help feeling that Katie Holmes did a slightly better job with the same role in the first film.

The Dark Knight

I have no doubt that the iconic status that The Dark Knight has gained is going nowhere. This is one of those films that will still be viewed and admired in 50 years time. Either as a stand along work or for the changes it brought about to mainstream filmmaking. On any list I make of the greatest mainstream films of all time, this film belongs near to the top.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Progress: 86/1001

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Don’t forget there is a competition all this week on the blog, details here. Also, I will be live tweeting the sequel to this film The Dark Knight Rises tomorrow afternoon, so be sure to check that out if you can.

26 responses

  1. Great film and one of the very few Hollywood films that I love. Nolan is the best working filmmaker right now in Hollywood. As for Ledger what can I say that hadn’t already been stated?

    I was never a big fan but he was epic in this. Nobody past or future from live action to animation will ever compare to Ledger. Hands down one of my all time favorite performances. Sometimes I get chills watching him he’s so good

    Do you wanna know how I got these scars?

    1. Yeah right on, tis a pretty amazing and chilling performance.

  2. Nice write up mate. This really is a brilliant film. Now I’ve seen it a few times, I do notice its flaws a bit more but that doesn’t stop it from being a superb piece of filmmaking. And I agree that Ledger’s Joker deserves every bit of praise, it’s a stunning performance.

    1. Cheers for commenting mate. No doubt there are flaws in there. But I also find, especially so this time, that I am also finding more things to love about this every time I revisit the film.

  3. Great write up!! This is easily my favorite of the three. We watched “Rises” again last week again and Bane’s voice actually makes me laugh.

    1. Cheers mate. I just watched DKR last night myself. The voice actually bothered me less this time around.

  4. Saw this again recently and it still works for me 😀

    1. Cheers man, glad you feel the same as I do.

  5. This was an awesome read! I adore this film, for me it is cinematic perfection, and one of the greatest casts. Gyllenhall is a little bit different, but it was ok in the long run. I can rave about this movie, and I agree – I don’t think it is fair to say that this film was largely successful due to Heath Ledger’s untimely passing. It was just brilliant.

    1. Thanks for commenting Zoe. Yep, tis pretty close to perfect. I didn’t mind Gyllenahll. Tis always hard when the same character is played by a different actor so close together. It always jars a bit. She was ok, I just really enjoyed Holmes in the first I guess.

      1. 🙂 It does go that way though. You get used to someone then that gets changed. Same way that I could not watch Punisher War Zone? No Thomas Jane. What the hell was that?

  6. I second everything you say in here; I also think Michael Caine is great in his supporting role; the relationship between Wayne & Alfred is the most endearing aspect of the trilogy…

    I was very annoyed that after Ledger died some said he only got all the praise and the Oscar b/c he died, etc. I for one was pissed-off when Ledger was cast as the Joker b/c I didn’t think he was capable of pulling it off, and a lot of others agreed with me. I thought the movie was going to suck. And then 8 months later when that “Dark Knight” trailer premiered at “I Am Legend” I jumped to my feet and said “Give him the Oscar now!” and gladly admitted I was 100% wrong – and that was just from the trailer! You don’t even have to see the movie to tell how damn good Ledger was!

    This may be the greatest performance I’ve seen, only after Billy Bob Thornton’s performance in “Sling Blade”. I haven’t seen anyone top that yet; the way BBT completely transforms himself with no make-up, but by simply changing the expression on his face. I can find Heath Ledger somewhere under the make-up as The Joker, but I cannot find BBT in Karl. It’s as if he is an entirely different person.

    But anyway, great write up! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment man. I haven’t seen Sling Blade. Will have to try and check it out. You have definitely intrigued me.

      On Ledger, tis absurd to say his performance is overrated because of the timing of his death, though I know people definitely have suggested that. The only thing it might have boosted was some of the box office numbers. But his work in the film most definitely stands on its own merit.

      1. And I don’t think his death had much to do with the box office numbers, either, b/c everyone was planning to see it after that trailer dropped which was a month before he died. That also annoys me when people suggest the film only did so well at the box office b/c of his death; point blank the film did so well b/c it was a great movie…

        Dude, you’ve got to watch “Sling Blade” YESTERDAY!! Watch it as soon as you get a chance to watch another movie. You can live-tweet it if you want as you like to do at times. You can rent it on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99. Not only does Billy Bob Thornton deliver what I consider the best performance I’ve ever seen, but Dwight Yoakam plays a memorable villain role. This is an all-time classic you’ve got to see ASAP just b/c any movie lover has to watch BBT here. Let me know what you think when you do watch. 🙂

      2. I will get on Sling Blade as soon as possible. Thanks for the suggestion.

        I definitely think that the film would have done exceptionally well at the box office no matter what. But there was something of a fervour about the film amongst a certain percentage of the community that was attributed to the the Ledger factor. But definitely don’t think that is responsible for the overall success of the film in that regard.

      3. Yeah man, let me know what you think when you watch. I think you’ll love it. 🙂

  7. Great review. I ♥ Christian Bale, but I wonder if you dislike his raspy whisper like I do?

    1. Ah, a little. In general I don’t mind it. Occasionally it is noticeable, but most of the time I am not fussed by it.

      1. I just read he won’t be Batman anymore. 3x is enough. I agree with him. Do you think we will have to wait years before they redo the franchise?

      2. No I think that they will probably reboot it within about 5 years or so. $ talks. I’m not surprised Bale is done. It was a neatly tied up trilogy. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him and Nolan return in a decade’s time or so to take on some the iconic comics where Batman is a little older (The Dark Knight Returns and stories like that).

      3. Yes, I could see that!
        BTW, I REALLY enjoyed your ‘House of Cain’. Awesome tribute. 🙂

      4. Thanks Cindy, glad you got a kick out of the recent focus on Michael Caine.

  8. Great film and best of its type imo

  9. This one still holds up as not only my favorite comic book movie of all time, but one of the very best films I have seen – period. Great writeup. I agree with 100% of everything you wrote. Heath Ledger is an obvioud highlight and I still get goosebumps when I think of his uncanny performance in this. He even managed to put Jack Nicholson’s Joker to shame.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I agree, it is on basically a totally different plane to most other comic book films. Tis amazing.

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