18 July 2008

To call The Dark Knight the best comic book movie ever made is to do it a disservice: as a crime epic, as a thriller, as a portrait of a city, it deserves comparison with The Departed and L.A. Confidential. Watching scene after scene unfold with incredible invention, complexity, and ingenuity, I was reminded that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan once wrote and directed a little movie called Memento, which is still the cleverest movie of the decade. That film was a twisty, intricate indie thriller shot on a shoestring; The Dark Knight must have cost something like $180 million, but it lavishes the same amount of care and attention on every image, every story point, and every line of dialogue—it has enough ideas and inspiration for half a dozen lesser movies. What's more, in the three years since Batman Begins, where the big set pieces were often a little muddled, Chris Nolan has learned how to shoot an action scene, and he gives us two or three that are as good as anything since Children of Men.

In this movie, the pleasures come as large as a semi truck turning a somersault—and as small as a graceful somersault of the camera itself. And the cast is, by and large, phenomenal. Heath Ledger has, deservedly, received most of the attention, but I'd like to spotlight the work of another actor: Gary Oldman. Back when Batman Begins was released, Oldman seemed like an odd choice for Commissioner Gordon—Kurt Russell was originally tapped for the part—and at the time, it felt as if the producers had simply tried to cast a big name, regardless of his suitability for the role. Not anymore. It may seem strange, but Gordon is the heart of The Dark Knight, and Oldman follows through with his best performance in years. He's the closest thing to a recognizable human being that I've ever seen in a film like this. Could Commissioner Gordon: The Movie be far behind?

Anyway, I could go on and on about The Dark Knight, which belongs to a very short list of recent films—including Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Zodiac, and There Will Be Blood—that have raised the bar for the entire industry. But you probably don't need my encouragement to see this movie. Right?

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