Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Dark Knight Rises

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas
Christopher Nolan
Charles Roven

Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan
Christopher Nolan

Story by: Christopher Nolan
David S. Goyer

Based on: Character created by Bob Kane

Starring: Christian Bale
Tom Hardy
Anne Hathaway
Michael Caine
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Marion Cotillard
Gary Oldman
Morgan Freeman

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Cinematography by: Wally Pfister
Editing by: Lee Smith

Studio(s): Legendary Pictures
Syncopy Films
DC Comics

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): July 16, 2012 (World Premiere)
July 19, 2012 (Australia/New Zealand/Hong Kong/Malaysia/Philippines/Singapore/Taiwan)
July 20, 2012 (United Kingdom/United States/Ireland)

Running time: 165 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $250 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $286, 038, 896

Here's the thing, I'm enjoying myself greatly in Nice. The weather is fantastic and the sea water is clear, which more than I can say for the dirty wet sock that is Northern Ireland I left behind. As such, trying to fit in time for reviews is troublesome, so I'm not going to make any promises about the consistency of  my work. Also, I was stupid enough to leave my copy of Chill behind at home, so I'll be reviewing that in August. To compensate for my negligence, I'm gonna try and get something off of the Top Documentaries website to review, and I'll be going to the cinema at some point during my time in Nice, so keep your eyes posted!

So, todays movie is undoubtedly the biggest movie of the year, and certainly one of the biggest releases of all-time, The Dark Knight Rises. In case you have been living under a rock, Batman Begins, the first film in Christopher Nolan's trilogy, was an in-depth and challenging look at the origin of the Batman character, and has in many ways become the template for the 'origin story' of many franchises that have arrived in its wake. Then of course we got the overwhelmingly successful The Dark Knight, which truly is an exercise in lean filmmaking, and truly represents the major calling card for Nolan, who made his name with the excellent, low-budget thriller Memento. Certainly, the film he made following The Dark Knight, Inception, owes a debt to Memento, though its budget saw Christopher Nolan take high-concept filmmaking to the next level. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan (two-time Best Director winner from my good self over the years) takes his Batman saga full-circle. Eight years following the death of Harvey Dent, Gotham City is in a state of relative peace, and through the Dent Act, propped up Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), who feels guilty about the cover-up of the late Dent's crimes, which have been burdened by the long-gone Batman. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) during this period has become a recluse, locking himself up in Wayne Manor, despite Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a Wayne Enterprises board member's constant attempts at communication. Following the trail of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who runs off with some of Wayne's property, he discovers a plot by Bane (Tom Hardy), to overturn the established order of Gotham and plunge the city into a new reign of terror. "A new reign of terror" sounds so cliche, but I don't want to give away any plot spoilers, so I'll just shush!

To start off what is good about the film, I want to actually praise Warner Bros. here. The Dark Knight Rises is more or less a dead cert to make its money back, so I like how they have just said to Christopher Nolan, "you've made a good profit with The Dark Knight and Inception, here's $250 million, go out there and make your movie," and boy does he ever. Technically, this is one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. Wally Pfister's cinematography displays all the care of someone who knows how to take a film seriously. With Pfister, as much as he great at showing the massive scale of the movie, it is the film's more low-key moments that show his expertise. No conversation is a simple talking matter, and his camera becomes (and makes us become) an active, engaging participant with the film. Also, Lee Smith's editing, which in The Dark Knight was an exercise in efficiency, is even more so the case here. There is so much going on, and Smith makes the transition so smoothly that it feels like a seamless piece, and not like you are constantly chopping and changing. Furthermore, in the action sequences, his editing is almost Eisensteinian in its jarring use of montage, but whilst it is frenetic, it never diverts from letting the audience see what is going on. Speaking of editing, the film sounds fantastic. When The Bat arrives on the scene, you genuinely feel the whole room shaking, but the most notable instance of this is in the confrontations between Batman and Bane, which are hard-hitting and brutal. You really feel every punch, forearm and elbow shot, and though it might not be too flashy, you have to appreciate the mixture of sound and choreography going in together. The whole mise-en-scene is a marvel and immerses you completely in the world of Gotham City. The costumes, as expected, are suitable reflections of their characters, but these, as well as the wonderful production design, both for the sets and the vehicles, continue the previous films' aesthetic: everything is designed around its operational efficiency and plausibility to exist in the real world. Also, although there are obviously special effects, they are used sparingly, and as such it is hard to distinguish between an effect and a hand-crafted set. The same can be said about the stunts, which are amped up to eleven, and unlike many big-budget features, are inventive, and deliver on their promises. It's nice to actually see that there is a brain behind $250 million, and that it is at least being spent in an original and intelligent way. Also, on a side note, I've been inbetweenies on Hans Zimmer's scores for the big Christopher Nolan films, but this time it definitely works. While many of the old themes return, this score is a lot more meditative and along the lines of his work on Gladiator with a lot more on emphasis on brass instruments. The 'Deshi Basara' chant that is featured as a motif is sure to become a classic hallmark of film music. Now we get to the acting front of things. In The Dark Knight, I felt that there was a slight dilution to the Batman character, and as a result, Bale's performance suffered. However, this a character study in a way, and Bale flexes his acting muscles once again. It is a shock to see Wayne at the beginning of the film looking as decrepit as he does, and Bale's physicality makes us believe in Wayne's frailty. Also, he appropriately depicts the character's inner conflict as he is pushed to the very extremes and challenged as he never has been before. Bale, who has been saddled with nothing parts (I have yet to see The Fighter though) in big films lately, is given more to do, and succeeds where others would fall. Plus, that infamous growl seems to have been modified, which can only be a good thing. Speaking of nothing parts, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's role as Blake could have been one of those, but, in a film full of characters, he brings legitimacy and a level of depth to the part. Also, Anne Hathaway delivers the definitive Selina Kyle performance. Really getting through to the essence of that character, she's athletic, complex, sexy and dynamic. Fitting in nicely, Hathaway has obviously been taking notes from Bale, as she wisely gets across Kyle's Catwoman as a reflection/female counterpart to Wayne's Batman. Although her part is much smaller, Marion Cotillard is a strong, solid Miranda Tate. In a more significant part than in previous films, Michael Caine's is terrific as Alfred. The long-suffering butler to Bruce Wayne goes to the extremes with him, and Caine depicts the emotional turmoil of Alfred with real weight. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is an exchange between Wayne and Alfred, and though Bale is great, it is Caine who gets across the absurdity and madness of his master's night-prowlings as Batman, while depicting his feelings of guilt as his father figure. The final person I'd like to praise on the acting front is Tom Hardy. Now I knew that he could play an imposing part well, I mean, just look at him in Bronson. However, his performance as Bane is a lot more subtle than you might at first expect. His voice is the right blend of menacing and charming, and reminded me of a distorted version of Claude Rains' Captain Renault in Casablanca. It makes for a fascinating contrast when you see this behemoth speaking in tones of Received Pronunciation. Also, given that he's hidden behind a mask the entire film, he seems to take these impositions in his stride. He has a wonderfully expressive face, and manages to get everything across through his cheeks, brows and eyes. As the lead antagonist, he has large (clown?) shoes to fill in the wake of Heath Ledger's Joker, but I think Hardy delivers an excellent, raw, physically impressive and imposing presence, bringing in his performance weight to everything the film is trying to get across. Finally, the architect behind all of this, Christopher Nolan, must be praised. Bringing this trilogy to a satisfying conclusion must have been a challenge, but he and his brother Jonathan must have, like me, been jumping for joy when they "cracked" the story for this film. The script is beautifully structured and Christopher Nolan never once loses control over the film. Like the character, The Dark Knight Rises is a delicate piece of work that could have just came crashing down, but it doesn't, it just keeps going and going and going, and it is my opinion that Christopher Nolan has done as much for the character of Batman as anyone who has ever done anything with it. 

Well, as you can see, I liked it. There's a lot to be said about The Dark Knight Rises. My good friend at Danland Movies delivered what is to my knowledge his largest review ever, and it seems I'm going down along those lines myself. With all that good being said, The Dark Knight Rises has two niggling problems. Given how much is going on, it is admirable what they do with this story. However, I feel that with all these characters and their various arcs going on, some of them are dealt with well, while others are more or less glossed over. Miranda Tate's story has a lot more going on, as does Jim Gordon's. Frankly, I feel that they could have beefed up them arcs a bit more and I would have gladly sat with this movie past the three-hour mark, because I was with it the whole way through. 

The Dark Knight Rises has a problem or two with how certain characters and arcs are dealt with, but these don't take away too much, and it is most definitely a masterpiece. In virtually every department, it succeeds with weight and gravitas. Cinematography, editing, sound editing, musical compositions, stunts/choreography, production design, special effects, acting, writing and directing, this film has, even with those irritable parts, everything you'd want in a film. On a personal note to Christopher Nolan, I have been of the opinion for many years that you are the best working filmmaker: Chris, you still are the best working filmmaker. The Dark Knight Rises sees Nolan's ascension to the level of one of the greatest filmmakers ever. A phenomenal achievement in film-making.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Content (Nice is incredibly therapeutic!)

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