No wonder everyone is talking about Heath Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight" the latest film in the Batman series. Aside from the obvious--his recent tragic death--he is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise unending drone of a movie that, by the last twenty minutes, left me and my two companions snickering in our seats, speaking to each other in croaking whispers (in imitation of Christian Bale's bazaar "Batman voice" that is a tragic but often amusing cross between the voices of of Darth Vadar and Bob Dylan) and wishing for nothing so much as the relief of a really good pee. And by the time we got one, I can assure you it turned out to be infinitely more satisfying than this over-hyped mess of a movie.
With a running time of 152 minutes and more climaxes than a whorehouse on a Saturday night, "The Dark Knight", for all its trying, forgets the first three rules of film making: the story, the story, the story. Oh, there is a plot. I think. It's just so convuluted that I never could quite sort it out--something about the regular mob, the Korean mob, the Moscow Ballet (?) the disappearing police chief, and then there's Maggie Gyllenhaal who manages to have chemistry with neither Aaron Eckhart or Darth Dylan and, at one point, comes dangerously close--too close for my tastes--to actually sporting a side ponytail as a hair-do.
Central to the story, near as I can figure, is a note Ms. Gyllenhaal writes to Batman promising to love him if he quits being Batman. Or wanting to be Batman. Or wanting to quit being Batman. Or something. Eventually, Bat-Vadar-Dylan receives the note. Except later we learn he never got it. Or something. OOooo---plot twist! (Warning: there are lots of these.)
And now you're starting to catch on to why this movie is annoying. Oh--but I have to clue you to the other major element--!EXPLOSIONS!. !CRASHES! and etc. Not that I'm complaining about the action. It is often a welcome relief to the general plotlessness and the characters that the film never gave me any real reason to love.
And there is some heavy-hitting acting talent going on here. I mean, come on, Gary Oldman? I'm still not over the Dracula scene: I have crossed oceans of time to find you. Chills. Not to mention, he even managed to pull off that creepy heart shaped gray bouffant. In JFK, he completely disappears into the role of Lee Harvey Oswald. But, sadly in Batman, he's just a guy with glasses and a really (justifiably) pissed off wife.
Aaron Eckhart? Who didn't love him as Nick Cannon, the slick fast-talking tobacco lobbyist in Thank You for Smoking? And then there's my sentimental favorite, Conversations with Other Women (love a split-screen!).
Maggie Gyllenhaal? Hair-do's aside, she's got the chops. Secretary and Sherrybaby , both stellar (and risky) performances.
Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, of course, need no endorsement from me. By virtue of their superior talents, voices and experience, they know how to rule the screen when they are on it and thus retain their cred. Both actors give us some of the best scenes in the film just because they themselves know to to work it. But these are too few and far between.
And, finally, Heath Ledger. (sniff!) I've said it before and I'll say it again: The best thing an artist can do for his/her career is to die. Ledger is definitely the high point of this film. His Joker is creepy, scary, funny, and even sometimes pitiable. Is he the best Batman villain ever? Ehhh. Maybe. Does he deserve an Oscar? In a world where "Titanic" received one for best movie of the year (an insult to the institution I've yet to get over), it could be.
But if Ledger wins for Joker, it will be another instance of the academy righting a past wrong by recognizing a slighted actor. He should have won for "Brokeback Mountain". His gritty portrayal of the tortured, anguished, repressed Ennis Del Mar is a performance so raw, so painful that, even now, I have trouble watching it. THAT is an Oscar-worthy performance.
In fact my theory is (and I'm chock-full of baseless theories, in case you haven't noticed--no extra charge for these) that the role of Ennis Del Mar proved so traumatic for Heath that I believe it drove him to impregnate Michelle Williams so her expanding belly and subsequent offspring was a constant real-world reminder of his heterosexual prowess. Not that this would cause him to love his resulting daughter any less. On the contrary, perhaps.
Where was I? Oh, yes, Batman: The Dark (endless) Knight. At best, a medicore DVD rental (because you'll be needing a bathroom).
A far cry from theater-worthy.