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Why you must watch The Dark Knight

July 17, 2008 14:42 IST

Carrying the biggest buzz for any film this year, the dark, brooding The Dark Knight, which has an awesome, legend-creating performance by the late Heath Ledger, will light up more than 3,500 theatres in America and Canada, starting Thursday evening. The demand for the tickets is so high that many theatres have added a 6 am show. The film, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, could gross over $100 million by Sunday evening.

It could also become one of the few films this year to have a repeat viewing audience. I would be among them. Having caught the film at a media screening, I am hoping to see at the 6 am show. The thrill of watching it with the audiences is one reason for the repeat visit. And then, I also hope that some of the plot twists that left me confused will become clearer. I also hope I will be able to savour the performances and the complexities of the film's character, as the car chases, mid-air explosions and gut-churning violence will impact me less on the second viewing.

Whether the film will have the wings to soar for several weeks and beat the year's champion until now, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull, is to be seen. The Harrison Ford starrer is heading for a $760 million gross across the world. Even if The Dark Knight, which was made for about $150 million, grosses half of the money made by Crystal Skull, it will be a solid profit-maker for Warner Bros.

Ledger, whose early career was championed by Shekhar Kapur in the ill-fated Four Feathers, was never a box office star. His most successful film was Brokeback Mountain, which fetched him an Oscar nomination. But that movie grossed a decent $200 million worldwide. Even before his untimely death in January, there was plenty of talk about his career-defining performance as the villain in The Dark Knight.

A still from The Dark KnightNow, every major reviewer is praising the actor.

Playing the Joker in the latest Batman saga, Ledger has created such an onscreen persona that his work will go down in the annals of cinema as a singular achievement. 'He comes on screen and electrifies the movie,' declared San Francisco Chronicle. 'With his smeared lipstick and painted white face, he is every clown, who ever terrified a child. His simplicity is fascinating, and as the movie goes on, that simplicity in itself becomes genuinely frightening.'

The Oscar nomination buzz for Ledger has already started. Ask anyone in Hollywood, including veteran producer Ashok Amritraj, and he will tell you that even though there are several months to go, it could be very difficult to find a performance that is as pulsating and frightening as that of Ledger's. Many Hollywood power brokers and journalists are also convinced that Ledger will indeed get the Oscar (in the supporting actor category). Only one star has won an Oscar after death, Peter Finch for 1976's satire Network.

Though the 150-minute long Dark Knight loses energy now and then, on the whole, it is a scary film in which the good guys have to fight hard to slow down if not conquer the Joker.

Director Nolan, 38, who made memorable small films such as Memento about nine years ago, shows here and as in his previous film the 2005 hit, Batman Begins, that he has not lost the ability to tell complex and intriguing stories despite the big budget paraphernalia surrounding his characters.

A still from The Dark KnightIn the new film, Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and new district attorney Harvey Dent successfully begin to round up the criminals that are menacing New York. But when the mysterious and amoral Joker arrives, Batman feels his services are needed to save the city.

But Batman, like other major characters in the film, has to fight his own demons while confronting the Joker.

While Nolan creates a tense world of conflicting loyalties and good impulses trying to assert over the evil ones, he also makes sure that the story is told with sparkling dialogue.

The Batman asks the Joker: Why do you want to kill me?

'I don't want to kill you,' he answera. 'What would I do without you?'

The Joker also announces at another point in the movie: 'This town deserves a better class of criminal... and I'm gonna give it to them. Tell your men they work for me now. This is my city.'

When one actor offers a mesmerising performance, some of us may not praise the other actors sufficiently. And that should not happen here, as there is hardly any performance that is not interesting. Christian Bale shines particularly in the scenes of conflict; he shows his displeasure and pain when the Assistant DA Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for whom he has the hots is distracted by Harvey Dent, the idealistic district attorney (Aaron Eckhart).

Arthur J Pais in New York