It’s always darkest before the dawn, and even though The Dark Knight offers a few slivers of hope by the end, this is a very bleak movie indeed. In a nutshell, Bruce Wayne / Batman (Christian Bale) is fighting to rid Gotham City of the Mob by targeting money launderers, and is so successful that The Joker (Heath Ledger) takes it upon himself to kill the Caped Crusader. Behind the cartoonish superhero posturing, however, is a very serious meditation on America’s approach to the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – Batman engages in the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of a suspect from Hong Kong, and isn’t averse to torturing a prisoner when the occasion demands. There’s also a fascinating double-act between Batman and Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), aka ‘the White Knight’, who distrusts Batman’s vigilante approach and wants to fight crime in a clear and transparent fashion. The director, Christopher Nolan, has crafted a thoughtful and often philosophical movie, but he hasn’t neglected to include a number of powerful action sequences, most of which – the lumbering and unconvincing Bat-bike apart – are expertly executed via Steadicam. Bale’s bass growl when voicing Batman is still an unnecessary irritation, but The Dark Knight is much more concerned with exploring the psychology behind Bruce Wayne than his alter ego, and here Bale is in superb form. Surrounded by an excellent cast – Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine all shine, particularly Caine – he is magnificently intense and introspective, offering an unusually realistic portrayal of a superhero beset by self-doubt. The star of the piece, however, is Heath Ledger as The Joker. Combining the expected range of tics and quirks of the clownish psychotic with a pathos-laden performance that offers real depth to the character, Ledger burns where Bale smoulders, leaving a scorching reminder of what his talent might have achieved. – Declan Burke
This review was first published in TV Now magazine
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.