The movie is directed by one of my favorite directors, Christopher Nolan, who made Memento and The Prestige (see MadProfessah's review), two of my favorite films of all time. In fact, in my opinion, Christopher Nolan (who co-writes and also produces his films) has yet to make a bad movie in the six feature films in his oeuvre so far: The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Batman Begins, Insomnia and Memento.
The Dark Knight is a fitting member of this club. Although it is not as intellectually satisfying as Memento or The Prestige it is another example of damned good film-making similar to Batman Begins but it is better than that movie.
The cast (like in the original) is quite impressive and uniformly excellent: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal with even minor roles filled with excellent actors like Nestor Carbonell (The Mayor of Gotham City) and Anthony Michael Hall (an important cop) and Eric Roberts (an important gangster).
A little over half-way through the film I whispered to The Other Half "How much did this film cost?!" It looks incredible and you really can't believe all the things they were able to do on-screen, even with the magic of computerized visual effects.
The film does have a significant flaw: the film is simply too long. It is his longest film to date, and I think it's because he wanted to give the fans a summer entertainment where they feel they got their money's worth. Well, he had me after the first hour. The running time could really be anywhere between 15-30 minutes shorter. There's simply too much plot for a popcorn movie (how often does say that about a summer blockbuster?) which leads to a sense of enervated appreciation by the end.
The strengths of the film are many and much celebrated at this point, with the most significant being the performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. He is absolutely riveting to watch, at times terrifying, funny and violent. It is an Oscar-calibre performance for which he will almost certainly win year-end acting awards posthumously (personally I would not vote for him for Best Supporting Academy Award if it were up to me because I think living actors should benefit from the exposure of winning the film industry's highest honor but there's no question it is one of the strongest supprting performances by a male actor in any film this year so far).
Unsurprisingly, Oscar-winners Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also incredibly strong in their supporting roles, as is Aaron Eckhart as the politically ambitious District Attorney Harvey Dent. Gary Oldman is almost unrecognizable in his Sir Albert Finney-like disappearance into his character. The only slight weakness in the top tier talent is Maggie Gyllenhaal's although I do think she was an improvement on Katie Holmes who originated the role of Bruce Wayne's love interest Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins.
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne (he doesn't really get to do any acting as Batman) is solid and I found it signficant that there are almost no scenes of Bale's incredible body shirtless--in fact there is almost no sexuality whatever in the film.
The film, instead seems to be more about the puzzle of vigilante-ism and the nature of the body politic of a city, as well as the nature of madness and criminality and how far "the good guys" will go to stop the "bad guys" from getting their way, even if that means the line between good and bad get blurred. But, ultimately, it is an incredibly entertaining way to spend almost 3 hours in the dark.
OVERALL GRADE: A-.