Film fanatics and friends Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen.So far, they have watched 24 of each others choices and there has been plenty or harmony, but just as much discord. Now the end is in sight and any criticism of the other man’s favourite is unlikely to go down well.
We start with Yasser’s top choice and in keeping with the feel of his list it is a modern classic directed by a big name and featuring iconic performances in a battle between good and evil. Fred’s watch it and is ready to give his verdict…
You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.
To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.
Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
Fred: Well… here we are. The penultimate review and the film at the top of your list
Yasser: Yeah. A film I’ve seen dozens of times
FS: Dozens? Wow! It’s only five years old
YA: I know it all word-for-word. I watched it again this week with my ‘Fred’ eyes
FS: (laughs) And how was that?
YA: It was refreshing. I’ve waited since July to watch it with a more judgemental pair of eyes
FS: What is the film?
YA: It’s ‘The Dark Knight‘
FS: It’s your favourite of favourites – your number one. Simple question for you – why?
YA: Brilliance through and through. The cast is brilliant, the direction, cinematography, visual effects, sound, editing, costume – all of it’s amazing. I love everything about this film
FS: Shall we start with the story?
YA: If you remember, one of my other choices was ‘Batman Begins‘, which you liked
FS: Very much…
YA: ‘The Dark Knight’ pretty much carries on from ‘Batman Begins’. It starts with a bank heist, and you know I like a good bank job. Were you impressed by the opening sequence?
FS: Yes. It really started with a bang. I’d thought it was a great way to start, as it would have been easy to begin with some moody shots of Batman/ Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) doing moody things, or a collection of shots showing Batman cleaning up Gotham to show what he’d been up to since the end of ‘Batman Begins’, but instead they went straight into the new story and introduced his new foe as quickly as possible
YA: And what a foe he is! We get introduced to ‘The Joker’ (Heath Ledger) very early on
YA: The way he is introduced is epic. The whole build-up around him in a few moments
FS: All the double-crossing during the heist makes you think ‘this guy’s a ruthless SOB‘. Then you realise that he’s happy to do the dirty work too
YA: Just in those couple of minutes you already know this guy is clever and having fun
FS: Dent’s an all-round good guy – idealistic, but not an idiot – rather like Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman)
YA: The story has picked up the thread from ‘Batman Begins’ on how Batman has affected the criminal underworld, forcing them to work in daylight and unite instead of being competitors. It becomes a bit of a challenge for Gordon and Dent and makes them reliant on Batman
FS: The first meeting between Gordon and Dent shows that is going to be an issue as Dent tried to get a grip on Batman, but Gordon blocks him as much as he can
YA: The plan they have to put an end to the mob is a good one, but the mob is one step ahead and manage to elude their efforts. This is why I find the story fantastic. It’s not about aliens invading Earth and then all the superheroes team up. ‘The Dark Knight’ is much, much more. Everything in the story ties to something else. It’s like ‘The Departed‘
FS: It does have a layered story and a lot of characters to keep up with, but like a good episode of ‘Seinfeld‘ everything is linked, even if it’s not immediately apparent
YA: I think the story of Harvey Dent is one of the best story arcs
FS: His story really showed how powerful ‘The Joker’ was. Dent is a symbol of good – “Gotham’s White Knight” – but the rampant, carefree evil of ‘The Joker’ still gets through to him
YA: ‘The Joker’ is monumental to the film’s story. His actions make the whole city panic, and the brilliant thing is he just wants to create chaos. He doesn’t have any regard for himself. He just wants to watch the dominoes fall
FS: With the film not setting up any back story, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s doing all this for nothing but his own pleasure
YA: I think he’s the best psycho sociopath personality I’ve seen on-screen
FS: On one of his early appearances I was was worried for you. I thought for about 30 seconds that all the hype and expectation around Ledger in this film was going to result in a let down. The good news is that as soon as he stopped the annoying fake laugh those worries about him evaporated faster than a raindrop in a bush fire. Ledger was terrific
YA: Nolan got a lot of grief for casting Ledger, but Nolan and the rest of the cast told the press that what he was doing with ‘The Joker’ was something no-one has seen before
FS: I have seen him in a few things and always thought he was very average. This is head and shoulders above anything else he did
YA: He also had to live up to the previous ‘Joker’, Jack Nicholson
FS: Was he better than Jack?
YA: Jack who?
FS: Jack was good, but he was Jack and we loved him for it. Ledger was so different from anything else he ever did. It wasn’t about ‘ha ha! Isn’t Jack great?‘, it was ‘God! ‘The Joker’s a bit of a cunt, isn’t he?‘
YA: I think Bale does a magnificent job again
FS: He lapses into his husky “I’m Batman!” voice a bit too often
YA: I knew you’d bring that up. I thought to myself ‘Fred is going to say that’s overused‘. The gravelly voice is all part of or Bruce hiding himself behind Batman. It’s the animal side he sets free. It’s his way of being intimidating
FS: He is very good. Don’t get me wrong
YA: From a viewer’s perspective it can seem excessive, but it wouldn’t be in character if Batman sounded like a yuppie
FS: I see what you are saying, but there’s a couple of moments that are verging on self-parody. It’s not a big deal, it’s just that Ledger is so good that Bale seems diminished. Taken on it’s own his performance is as good as it was in ‘Batman Begins’
FS: They are reassuring presences
YA: How did Eckhart fare in your eyes?
FS: Initially you aren’t sure if he’s going to be a disruptive influence on the Batman-Gordon relationship, but quickly you realise he’s ready to accept it as it benefits Gotham
YA: The more I watch his performance the more I like it. You can see the resemblance between him before and after his personality change
FS: It was the most difficult role as, like Bale in ‘Batman Begins’, he has a few different faces to show across the story (no pun intended). He did very well. He’s not in Bale or Oldman’s league as an actor, but he holds his own
YA: He’s also the love interest for Rachel Dawes, played here by Maggie Gyllenhaal. How was she in comparison to Katie Holmes?
FS: I was expecting her to be much better, but I don’t think she was any better or worse. Holmes surprised me in ‘Batman Begins’ with how solid she was and I think that’s the most you can say for Gyllenhaal. Solid without being great
YA: My sentiments exactly. Did anyone else stand out for you?
FS: Not really. This is Ledger and Bale’s film, and even Bale feels like a supporting player sometimes as Ledger dominates the movie so much. Whether that is a side-effect of what happened to him afterwards we will unfortunately never know
YA: Going back to the story for a moment, it’s really about how Batman is trying to clean up Gotham but he has rules for himself. ‘The Joker’ has no rules and even changes his mind throughout the film about what he wants in favour of what is fun in his mind. He creates a reputation, like Batman, and puts the same fear into people. He wants to test Gotham’s morality – through threatening to blow up the hospital, killing people daily unless Batman is unmasked, or during the ending with the sick, twisted game involving the two ferries
YA: Even the way he kept changing the story about how he got his scars showed he was always one step ahead
FS: The scars story thing was great as when you heard his first explanation you think ‘God! That is awful‘. Yet when he changes the story any smidgen of sympathy or insight into his mind disappears. In a weaker film the lack of explanation as to why he was so crazy would have driven me insane
YA: It’s the beauty of Nolan’s ‘Joker’
FS: You said it!
FS: Speaking of Nolan…
YA: You know, if he continues on this path he’s going to be remembered as one of the greats
FS: If he died tomorrow I’d consider him the equal of Spielberg for this type of film
YA: His films are mentally stimulating as well as leaving you in awe because of the visuals
FS: With ‘E.T.’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘ and others of that era, Spielberg didn’t have the sophisticated effects to work with so he knew the stories had to be nourishing too. What makes Nolan great is that he does have visual effects at his disposal that can show you pretty much anything and make it look real, but he doesn’t rely on that like a lot of film makers do
YA: What about the other technical aspects? Did you like the way the IMAX shots panned out the screen?
FS: It can be easy to worry only about what’s going on centre stage, but guys like Nolan and Wally Pfister, the cinematographer, know that to make a world real every inch of the screen has to be real. The editing was a bug-bear of mine last time and, again, there was some issues. However, that is nit-picking
YA: What about the score? Please tell me you liked it
YA: I love the way the violin scratching happened every time ‘The Joker’ was lurking around the corner
FS: I listened out for that as you had flagged it to me beforehand. First time, I noticed it but after that I was so engrossed so I forgot to listen out for it
FS: Do you think there were any flaws with the film?
YA: Nothing major. A couple of plot holes maybe, but they are admissible
FS: I did think Bruce Wayne was pretty careless in this. There is a scene where ‘The Joker’ turns up at Bruce’s party and people see Bruce going into what the think is his panic room. I reckon, after Batman turns up five minutes later, I’d have put two and two together
YA: (laughs) Yeah! I was wondering if you felt it was a good move to make the Tumbler turn into the Batpod, or did it feel too childish?
FS: Ehhhh… good question. Look, a film like this will always have bits where I think ‘Yeah right! As if that would work‘ and that was one of them, but it worked within the film as a whole. The tightrope a Batman movie walks is the most difficult. He’s an ordinary man, not a flying alien or a man bitten by a radioactive spider. With those sorts of stories you are instantly in a fantasy world whereas this is set in the real world with some fantastical elements. They have to make the unrealistic things feel as plausible as possible and I don’t think any film does that as well as it’s done here
FS: We were talking about flaws…
YA: Oh dear…
FS: I watched ‘The Dark Knight’ and really enjoyed it. I would watch it again and it is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. However, it may be a victim of ‘Film Club‘ itself. Doing this has made me a lot more critical so that I watch movies now that I would previously thought of as ’10/10′ movies and I feel that, as they aren’t perfect, I cannot rate them that highly
FS: Film ratings should be a bell curve where the majority lie between ‘4’ and ‘7’ and the ‘1’s and ’10’ are the smallest groups of all… however I’ll save the rest of this for my summary
YA: I too see flaws in movies i would have originally called ’10/10’s, but you can’t be too critical because if you are…. where’s the escape?
FS: So this is where you get a last chance to tell me why ‘The Dark Knight’ is so amazing
YA: Okay. I love Batman. Loved him since I was a boy. I watched the Adam West TV Show growing up and the Tim Burton franchise, which was ruined when it was given to Joel Schumacher by Warner Brothers after people said it was too dark, and he fucked things up in all honesty. They did the right thing to reboot Batman
FS: The results speak for themselves
YA: Nolan changed the the image for Batman in film and made it more real. With ‘The Dark Knight’, Warners gave Nolan more control and he made an absolutely brilliant film. The story is beautifully told and touches on many different themes. It’s long but never drags. It’s ‘bang! bang! bang!’ all the way through. The main reason I love it is the storyline and the sacrifices Batman is forced to make. I’ve always said a hero is only as good as the villain, and Ledger as ‘The Joker’ is the best I’ve seen anyone play a villain ever. And I don’t think it’s quintessentially just a superhero movie. It sets the bar so high it will be hard for another superhero film to top it
FS: That’s probably true
YA: I love Batman. (laughs) That’s it
FS: This has been the toughest film to assess as it is your favourite and I know you are a huge fan of Batman and the Nolan franchise in particular. However, I have to leave all of that aside and judge the film as I see it
YA: Do your thing
FS: ‘The Dark Knight’ is an excellent action movie that picks up the high standard of ‘Batman Begins’ and takes it up a notch. With no back-story to explore, the film goes straight into the action. We know Batman and know what he’s about. We know Gordon is the only honest cop and we know that Alfred (Caine) and Fox (Freeman) are Bruce’s father figures. We also know Rachel is the girl he loves but has cut adrift in order to do what Gotham needs him to do – to be Batman. The new elements that are introduced are Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, who does a very good job in high-class company, and ‘The Joker’ who the film revolves around. A lot has been said about Heath Ledger’s performance in the wake of his death. It has been eulogised to a ridiculous level and whilst nothing could ever live up to all the hype, it is a stunning portrayal of pure evil for evil’s sake
YA: I’m getting excited now
FS: The technical aspects of the film are almost universally superb, but what really makes the film great, in tandem with Ledger, is Christopher Nolan. All I can say about him is he is on his way to being the best in his genre and if he shows he can do other things too then the sky’s the limit. Now we come to the rating. Watching this, it struck me that action is a genre that I don’t find it difficult to watch or enjoy, but I do find it difficult to really love. I think ‘The Dark Knight’ is up there with the best of them, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t think I could honestly say it deserves top marks. I thought it was brilliant, but it didn’t leave me with the feeling the very best films gives me. I’m sorry Yasser but it’s a 9/10
YA: So the reason it gets nine is that it’s an action movie?
FS: Not exactly. I think I’ve become more realistic about what ratings films deserve since we started ‘Film Club‘ and there are very few perfect movies. Also, we all have genres we enjoy more than others and i wonder if I am hard-wired to be critical of action movies
YA: You should be judging these films objectively!
FS: It’s the same as what you have said about musicals and westerns. You can appreciate one now and again, but in general you don’t like them. I’m not saying it deserves a nine BECAUSE it’s an action movie, I’m saying that after watching it and awarding it a a nine, I started to wonder if there is something about action movies that will always make me think of them unconsciously as imperfect
YA: That’s disappointing… like, I don’t like you right now (laughs)
Next time: The final film of the fifty is Fred’s favourite. Fantastic or flawed?