My Plea to the Academy: Consider “The Dark Knight”

November 25, 2008

the-dark-knight

This is my personal plea to the Academy, disregarding the fact that they’ll never read it; at least I wrote it: do not overlook “The Dark Knight” for a Best Picture nomination. Seriously. I know that very competent, capable and captivating films will be up for Best picture. I’m not a naïve or bitter fan boy who feels that the “real best” pictures are over-looked. Winners and nominees from the past few years have truly displayed the best that modern motion pictures have had to offer: No Country for Old Men, There Will be Blood, The Departed and Million Dollar Baby, to name a few, truly deserved the recognition and awards that they received. Although I’m a comic fan, I don’t think many films based on comics have been worthy of Academy consideration. Such adaptation films have gotten increasingly good: Ghost World, V for Vendetta, Sin City, Iron Man, and 300 to name a few; but none yet have deserved “Best Picture” status. And although I’m a Batman film, I would not in a million years make the claim that the entertaining Tim Burton version from 1990 nor the excellent Nolan prequel to Knight, “Batman Begins,” deserved it either. But “Dark Knight” truly does. Subtext, depth, actors working in top caliber performances, excellent dialogue, a pitch-perfect script: all of these are qualities previous winners had, and these are qualities that “Dark Knight” has as well.

Critics and movie-goers alike have clamored for Heath Ledger’s recognition for his perfect performance as the Joker. His getting a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor is almost, but not quite, a given, and deservedly so. His performance is scary, dramatic, edgy, darkly humorous and full throttle. He completely disappears into his character to the point you do not recognize him: his speech, his body language and his entire persona resonates as the Joker. I wonder if this terrific performance would have been fully acknowledged if not for his untimely death, however. I know that early reaction to test shots and PR of the performance had critics raving in droves, but would the academy have thought to acknowledge it if not for the personal tragedy causing them to take notice? I say this not to belittle the performance, but to describe what it took to get such a supposed “fan boy/popcorn” film noticed.

Because Ledger was not the only amazing performance on display. Sure, Christian Bale’s performance as Batman didn’t scream “Superb!”, but his Bruce Wayne was spot-on. Everyone else knocked it out of the park…Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhal, Michal Caine, Gary Oldham all give career highlight displays of their talent.

The underlying depth of Dark Knight is what sends it over the top. “You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain,” is the over-stated message we hear a few times quite bluntly. More subtly is the concept that society feels it must vilify its heroes and raise its villains to heroic status for the supposed betterment of all. The film presents us with overwhelming evil, a type of person who does wrong for no real reason. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” Michael Cain as Alfred says to Bruce Wayne at one point. This type of evil enters an already rotten and corrupt atmosphere. Gotham, especially as depicted in the Nolan films, is a place so wicked and corrupt it simply has to have a Batman to protect it. Yet the presence of such a person as Batman inspires the evil people of the city to get progressively wilder. So what measures does such a Batman have to take when presented with the evil of someone like the Joker? What all possible actions can be committed by “good” people that will allow them to remain classifiable as such? We see how such people and such actions affect truly good, decent and honorable men by watching the progress of Harvey Dent, as played by Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart’s performance can’t be mentioned enough, it’s truly incredible. We seem him live and breath the part, we watch how he is as a righteous man in a corrupted city, an honorable attorney in a crooked court system. We see how he rises to the challenge but also how he ultimately is affected when true evil hits close to home. We see how plans by the Joker seek to use Dent as his ultimate statement and how the Batman and the city responds– Dent is Gotham’s White Knight, Batman is its Dark Knight and the reality of each is different than their respective public personas.

Visually this film never ceases to stun. It’s very evident that what many films use digital affects to portray, this film actually does in the old-school style. In one memorable scene a building is blown up, reportedly really done for filming, and in another a semi truck is completely flipped in a rotating 180 degree shot. Certainly computers are used to polish and add to the action sequences, but this balance of real–the use of models, and real, coordinated stunts–and digital, computer based affects results in a gritty, realistic, astounding picture.

Films like “There Will Be Blood” and “The Departed” convey such deep and real conflicts and themes but they admittedly require your careful attention and efforts. This often results in the deepest connection and effects of films, by creating a give and take relationship and effort on the viewers part. “Dark Knight” just takes that attention by never letting up, though. It’s commendable that such a summer blockbuster and somewhat “popcorn” film can succeed in entertaining you, exciting you and keeping you on the edge of your seat while also providing deeper themes, concepts, moral ambiguities, philosophies and also display top-of-the-line acting, directing, production and musical score. Most summer blockbusters, regardless of how entertaining they may be, do not deserve academy recognition. This film does. Please give it the nomination, academy. Ultimately a film like such buzzed works as Changeling, Australia, Milk and others may deserve and win the trophy, but at least give this film the credibility it deserves by giving it a ballot spot. Thank you. For regular readers or those that may visit again, I’ve written my spiel for this film. When it comes time to mention it’s place in my year end recap, I’ll be brief.

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