Movie Reviews by Michael Phillips

The Dark Knight Movie Review & Trailer

Sensational, grandly sinister and not for the kids, "The Dark Knight" -- starring Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as the Joker -- elevates pulp to a very high level.

Heath Ledger's Joker takes it higher still, and the 28-year-old actor's death earlier this year of an accidental overdose lends the film an air of a funeral and a rollicking, out-of-control wake mixed together.

In "The Dark Knight," Ledger makes all other comic-book screen villains look like Baby Huey.

Like Shakespeare's Iago or Richard III, like Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter or Javier Bardem's implacable murderer in "No Country for Old Men," this is no Method psychopath, asking or telling anyone about his character's motivation.

At one point Ledger throws up his hands and says, agitatedly, that it's a waste of time looking for a rationale behind the Joker's smeary Insane Clown Posse makeup.

"I'm a dog chasing cars," he says. "I wouldn't know what to do with one of them if I caught it."

Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan, who fashioned the screenplay with his brother, Jonathan, has created the most ambitious and sleekly beautiful of all the superhero screen outings. A handful of others -- "Superman II" and "Spider-Man 2" come to mind -- may have fewer loose ends and a more exhilarating spirit. They're certainly shorter; this one is 152 minutes. But "The Dark Knight," which improves upon the solemn authority Nolan and Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne brought to "Batman Begins," has an atmospheric shimmer all its own. Its unsung hero is cinematographer Wally Pfister, who makes every interior and exterior a thing of burnished, menacing beauty. Shot largely in Chicago at night, greatly aided by production designer Nathan Crowley, this is the most nocturnally insinuating entertainment since Michael Mann's "Collateral."

Sampling every flat Midwestern dialect he no doubt heard while shooting in Chicago, Ledger gives the Joker the deceptively bland vowel sounds of heartland America. But Gotham City is no heartland paradise. It teeters on the verge of bloody anarchy, and its most outré citizen licks his chops, literally, as if he can't get the taste of blood out of his mouth.

While billionaire playboy Wayne continues his clean-up campaign, Gotham City finds a new symbol of righteous hope, district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He has it all: a fervent desire to clean up a dirty town, plus the love and devotion of Wayne's ex, the assistant D.A. and one of a small handful of Gothamites who know Batman's true identity. She's played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, stepping in for (and improving on) Katie Holmes. Gyllenhaal's curled-at-the-corners smile matches up perfectly with Bale's.

The D.A. teams up with Batman and the weary honest cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman in a mustache that says "trust me") to combat organized crime, though Batman's vigilantism has inspired all sorts of copycat, low-rent imitators. Then, just when the film needs a good jolt, Dent undergoes a radical physical and psychological transformation and becomes, literally, two-faced.

The transformation comes at a narrative cost. The film's focus is thrown slightly out of whack, and it's too bad his coin-flipping gambit is so like that of "No Country's" Anton Chigurh. Not everything in "The Dark Knight" works: Some of the more painful flourishes -- a grenade plopped in a bank manager's mouth, the terrorization of Gordon's children -- are too much. Yet so much of "The Dark Knight" works on different levels simultaneously. It's a brooding crime saga with some spectacular action sequences. My favorite pits Bale's Batman and his "Bat-Pod," the world's deadliest, most awesome motorcycle, against Ledger's Joker in an 18-wheeler. The setting is Chicago's LaSalle Street canyon, and what I love about the scene -- aside from its eerie, 3 a.m. vibe -- is Nolan's reliance on good old-fashioned stunt work. "The Dark Knight" offers plenty of digital effects, but they never take over.

Nineteen years ago, Jack Nicholson's Joker won a lot of the credit for the popularity of director Tim Burton's "Batman." In contrast to that stylish but uneven picture, one of the splendid things about "The Dark Knight" is its refusal to squander its villain. This is a true ensemble piece, and you can't say that of most $180 million franchise products. Ledger's scenes are few, carefully considered, often startlingly brutal (one scene, over in an eye-blink, involves a disappearing pencil trick and a man's skull) and freakishly effective.

Six sequences constituting about 20 minutes of footage were shot using IMAX cameras, including the opening bank heist and a fabulous swoop across the Hong Kong skyline. (The narrative takes a detour for a matter of extraditing an Asian businessman back to Gotham and to justice.) There's a sweep and spaciousness to the imagery here, and even a simple chase sequence such as the one staged along Lower Wacker Drive feels freshly considered. The violence, however rough, is largely free of the lingering, jokey sadism prevalent in so many comic-book and graphic novel-derived films. Nolan paints an inky portrait of a city falling apart, and in a movie rife with two-faced masquerading freaks, the Joker is merely the least conflicted of the bunch. Ledger's work is improbably droll, impossibly creepy, meticulously detailed. See for yourself.

"The Dark Knight" - 4 Stars

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine

Ratings PG-13 - some menace, intense sequences of violence

Time: 152 min.

"The Dark Knight" Movie Trailer


About the Movie "The Dark Knight"

The Dark Knight Batman Movie Review on Video Starring Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as the Joker

The follow-up to the action hit "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight" reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and the committed new District Attorney, Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham City for good. The triumvirate initially proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker, who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces The Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.

Academy Award nominee Heath Ledger portrays arch-villain The Joker, and Aaron Eckhart plays District Attorney Harvey Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast in the role of Rachel Dawes. Returning from "Batman Begins" are Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Jim Gordon; Oscar winner Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules") as Alfred; and Oscar winner Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") as Lucius Fox.

"The Dark Knight" - About the Cast

CHRISTIAN BALE (Bruce Wayne / Batman) was born in Wales and grew up in England and the USA. He made his film debut in Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic "Empire of the Sun."

Bale’s work to date also includes "Henry V," "The Portrait of a Lady," "The Secret Agent," "Metroland," "Velvet Goldmine," "All the Little Animals," "American Psycho," "Shaft," "Captain Corelli’s Mandolin," "Reign of Fire," "Laurel Canyon," "The Machinist," "Batman Begins," "The New World," "The Prestige," "Harsh Times," "Rescue Dawn" and "3:10 to Yuma."

Bale just completed work on "Public Enemies" for director Michael Mann. He is currently filming "Terminator Salvation," under the direction of McG.

MICHAEL CAINE (Alfred) is one of the film industry’s most esteemed actors, with a career spanning over half a century and encompassing more than 100 films and a myriad of acting honors. A two-time Academy Award winner, Caine won his first Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor, for his work in "Hannah and Her Sisters," for which he also received Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations. He took home his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in "The Cider House Rules," also winning a SAG Award and earning Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations.

In addition, Caine has earned four Oscar nominations for Best Actor, the first coming in 1966 for his performance in the title role in "Alfie," which also brought him a Golden Globe nomination and a New York Film Critics Award. He received his second Oscar nod, as well as a Golden Globe nomination and an Evening Standard Award, for the part of Milo Tindle in 1972’s "Sleuth." His role in "Educating Rita" earned him his third Oscar nomination, and Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards. He gained his latest Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations for his work in 2002’s "The Quiet American," for which he also won a London Critics Circle Award. He previously won Golden Globe and London Critics Circle Awards, as well as a BAFTA Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actor for "Little Voice."

More recently, Caine won another London Critics Circle Award for his performance in 2006’s "The Prestige," which reunited him with director Christopher Nolan following their collaboration on the 2005 blockbuster "Batman Begins." Caine’s

most recent film work also includes Gore Verbinski’s "The Weather Man," Alfonso Cuaron’s "Children of Men," and the 2007 remake of "Sleuth," in which he turned the tables on his 1972 role, playing Milo’s adversary, Andrew.

Caine was born Maurice Micklewhite in South London in 1933, the son of a fish market porter and a charwoman. His interest in acting began at an early age and, at 16, he left school and took odd jobs for local film companies, hoping to be discovered. When he was 18, he was called to do his National Service with the Queen’s Royal Regiment and the Royal Fusiliers. Upon his discharge in 1953, Caine began pursuing his acting career, taking his stage name from the title "The Caine Mutiny." Starting out on the stage, he toured Britain in a variety of plays, and began appearing in increasingly better roles in British films and television shows.

In 1964, Caine landed his first major film role as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead in "Zulu." The following year, he starred in the hit thriller "The Ipcress File," earning his first BAFTA Award nomination for his portrayal of secret agent Harry Palmer. However, it was his Oscar-nominated performance in the seminal sixties film "Alfie" that catapulted Caine to international stardom. In the late 1960s, he went on to star in 11 films, including "The Ipcress File" sequels, "Funeral in Berlin" and "Billion Dollar Brain"; "Gambit," earning a Golden Globe nomination; "Hurry Sundown"; "Woman Times Seven"; "Deadfall"; "The Magus"; "The Italian Job"; and "Battle of Britain."

Over the following two decades, Caine starred in more than 40 films, including Robert Aldrich’s "Too Late the Hero"; "X, Y and Zee," opposite Elizabeth Taylor; "Sleuth," with Laurence Olivier; John Huston’s "The Man Who Would Be King"; "Harry and Walter Go to New York"; Richard Attenborough’s "A Bridge Too Far"; the Neil Simon comedy "California Suite"; Woody Allen’s "Hannah and Her Sisters," winning his first Oscar; Brian De Palma’s "Dressed to Kill"; John Huston’s "Victory"; Sidney Lumet’s "Deathtrap"; "Educating Rita"; Stanley Donen’s "Blame It on Rio"; John Frankenheimer’s "The Holcroft Covenant"; Neil Jordan’s "Mona Lisa"; and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," for which he received a Golden Globe nomination.

Over the next 15 years, Caine starred in such films as the ensemble comedy "Noises Off…"; "Blood and Wine"; "Little Voice"; "Quills"; "Miss Congeniality"; "Austin Powers: Goldmember"; "The Quiet American"; and the Lasse Hallström films "Secondhand Lions" and "The Cider House Rules," for which he won his second Oscar.

On the small screen, Caine earned both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for the dual title role in the telefilm "Jekyll & Hyde" and for his portrayal of South African

President F.W. de Klerk in the historical drama "Mandela and de Klerk." He also gained a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the telefilm "Jack the Ripper" and an Emmy nomination for the docudrama "World War II: When Lions Roared."

Also an author, Caine wrote an autobiography entitled What’s It All About?, as well as Acting on Film, a book based on a series of lectures he gave on BBC Television.

In the 1992 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Caine was awarded the CBE, and eight years later received a knighthood.

HEATH LEDGER (The Joker) was honored with an Academy Award nomination for his work in Ang Lee’s drama "Brokeback Mountain." For his performance as Ennis Del Mar, Ledger also earned Golden Globe, Independent Spirit, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, and won several critics groups’ awards.

In 2007, Ledger was seen in Todd Hayne’s "I’m Not There," for which he shared in a Robert Altman Award at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards.

His previous film credits include "Candy," "Casanova," "The Brothers Grimm," "Lords of Dogtown," "The Order," "Ned Kelly," "The Four Feathers," "Monster’s Ball," "A Knight’s Tale," "The Patriot" and "10 Things I Hate About You," which first introduced the Australian-born actor to American audiences.

GARY OLDMAN (James Gordon) first played the role of Gotham Police Lieutenant James Gordon in "Batman Begins." He also originated the role of Sirius Black in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and reprised the part in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

Oldman began his career in 1979 on the London stage. Between 1985 and 1989 he acted exclusively at London’s Royal Court Theatre and, in 1985, was named Best Newcomer by London’s Time Out for his work in "The Pope’s Wedding." That same year he shared the London Critic’s Circle Best Actor Award with Anthony Hopkins.

In 1986, Oldman made his major feature film debut in "Sid and Nancy," winning the Evening Standard British Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer for his portrayal of punk rock legend Sid Vicious. The following year, he starred in Stephen Frears’ "Prick Up Your Ears," winning the Best Actor Award from the London Film Critics Circle for his portrayal of doomed British playwright Joe Orton. He has since become one of the industry’s most respected actors, appearing in both mainstream hits and acclaimed independent films. Oldman’s early film credits also include Nicolas Roeg’s "Track 29";

"Criminal Law"; "Chattahoochee"; Tom Stoppard’s "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead," for which he received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actor; "State of Grace"; "Henry & June"; Oliver Stone’s "JFK," playing Lee Harvey Oswald; and the title role in Francis Ford Coppola’s "Dracula."

Oldman’s subsequent film work includes memorable roles in Tony Scott’s "True Romance"; "Romeo is Bleeding"; the Luc Besson films "The Professional" and "The Fifth Element"; "Immortal Beloved"; "Murder in the First"; Roland Joffe’s "The Scarlett Letter"; Julian Schnabel’s "Basquiat"; Wolfgang Petersen’s "Air Force One"; the big screen version of "Lost in Space"; and Ridley Scott’s "Hannibal."

In 1995 Oldman and manager/producing partner Douglas Urbanski formed the production company The SE8 Group, which produced Oldman’s directorial debut feature "Nil by Mouth," which Oldman also wrote. The film was invited to open the 1997 50th Cannes Film Festival in the main competition, where Kathy Burke won the Best Actress Award for her role. In addition, Oldman won two BAFTA Awards for Best British Film and Best Screenplay; the Channel 4 Director’s Award at the 1997 Edinburgh International Film Festival; and the Empire Award for Best Debut Film. He also executive produced and starred in the SE8 Group film "The Contender," which received two Oscar nominations and brought Oldman a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

On the small screen, Oldman earned an Emmy nomination for his guest appearance as an alcoholic actor on the hit comedy series "Friends." His earlier television work includes the telefilms "Meantime," directed by Mike Leigh, and "The Firm," directed by Alan Clarke.

AARON ECKHART (Harvey Dent) earned Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award nominations for his role as an unapologetic tobacco lobbyist in 2005’s "Thank You for Smoking," which marked Jason Reitman’s directorial debut. Eckhart more recently starred in Brian De Palma’s fact-based murder mystery "The Black Dahlia"; the romantic comedy "No Reservations," opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones; and the independent film "Meet Bill." He next stars in Alan Ball’s "Towelhead," which opens in limited release this fall, and "Traveling," opposite Jennifer Aniston.

Eckhart studied theater and film at Brigham Young University, where he first met writer/director Neil LaBute and appeared in several of LaBute’s plays. In 1997, Eckhart first gained attention from film critics and audiences when he starred in LaBute’s first feature film, "In the Company of Men." The controversial feature earned widespread acclaim and won a number of awards, including an Independent Spirit Award for Eckhart for Best Debut Performance.

Over the next five years, he starred in three more LaBute films: "Your Friends and Neighbors," with Ben Stiller and Catherine Keener; "Nurse Betty," with Renée Zellweger; and "Possession," opposite Gwyneth Paltrow. During that time, Eckhart also received praise for his memorable performance as the love interest of the title character in Steven Soderbergh’s acclaimed 2000 biopic "Erin Brockovich," opposite Julia Roberts.

Eckhart’s additional film credits include "Conversations with Other Women," opposite Helena Bonham Carter; John Woo’s action drama "Paycheck," with Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman; Ron Howard’s "The Missing," with Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett; Jon Amiel’s "The Core," opposite Hilary Swank; Sean Penn’s "The Pledge," joining an all-star cast, including Jack Nicholson and Vanessa Redgrave; Oliver Stone’s "Any Given Sunday"; and John Duigan’s "Molly," opposite Elisabeth Shue.

On the stage, Eckhart theatrical credits include Michael Cristofer’s play "Amazing Grace," opposite Marsha Mason.

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL (Rachel Dawes) has, in just the last few years, emerged as one of the film industry’s busiest leading ladies, earning praise for her work in both major studio releases and independent features. In 2002, she starred opposite James Spader in the provocative film "Secretary," which premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. Gyllenhaal’s performance in the title role brought her numerous honors, including Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award nominations, a Boston Film Critics Award, and a National Board of Review Award. In addition, she won a Chicago Film Critics Award for Most Promising Performer, which also recognized her work in two other 2002 releases: Spike Jonze’s "Adaptation" and George Clooney’s "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind."

Gyllenhaal received her second Golden Globe Award nomination, as well as several international film festival awards, for her starring role in the 2006 independent feature "SherryBaby." That same year, she starred in Marc Forster’s acclaimed comedy drama "Stranger Than Fiction," with Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah and Dustin Hoffman; Oliver Stone’s real-life drama "World Trade Center"; and a segment of the anthology film "Paris, je t’aime." Gyllenhaal also lent her voice to the Oscar-nominated animated film "Monster House."

Her other recent film credits include Bart Freundlich’s "Trust the Man," with David Duchovny and Julianne Moore; Don Roos’ "Happy Endings," with Lisa Kudrow; John Sayles’ "Casa de los Babys"; and "Mona Lisa Smile," in which she starred with Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles under the direction of Mike Newell.

Also an accomplished stage actress, Gyllenhaal starred in the Tony Kushner play "Homebody/Kabul," which ran in Los Angeles and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She had previously played the role of Alice in Patrick Mauber’s award-winning play "Closer," first at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and then at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum. Her other stage credits include "Antony and Cleopatra" at the Vanborough Theatre in London.

Gyllenhaal was still in her teens when she made her feature film debut in "Waterland," starring Jeremy Irons and Ethan Hawke. She later appeared in John Waters’ quirky Hollywood satire, "Cecil B. Demented," which led to a co-starring role in the fantasy thriller "Donnie Darko."

In 1999, while still pursuing her acting career, Gyllenhaal graduated from Columbia University, where she studied Literature.

MORGAN FREEMAN (Lucius Fox) won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Clint Eastwood’s "Million Dollar Baby," for which he also won a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award and received a Golden Globe nomination. He has been honored with three additional Oscar nominations, the first coming for his chilling performance as a homicidal pimp in the 1987 drama "Street Smart," which also brought him Los Angeles, New York, and National Society of Film Critics Awards, and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor, as well as his first Golden Globe Award nomination. He earned his second Oscar nomination and won Golden Globe and National Board of Review Awards for Best Actor for the 1989 film "Driving Miss Daisy," in which he recreated his award-winning off-Broadway role. He gained his third Oscar nod for his performance in Frank Darabont’s 1994 drama "The Shawshank Redemption," which also brought Freeman Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations.

In addition to "The Dark Knight," Freeman also stars this summer in the action thriller "Wanted." He also has a wide range of films upcoming, including "The Code"; "The Lonely Maiden," which he is also producing; and "The Human Factor," which he will co-produce and star in, playing Nelson Mandela, opposite Matt Damon.

Freeman’s recent film work also includes starring roles in Rob Reiner’s "The Bucket List," opposite Jack Nicholson; Robert Benton’s "Feast of Love"; Ben Affleck’s "Gone Baby Gone"; "Lucky Number Slevin"; Lasse Hallström’s "An Unfinished Life," with Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez; Christopher Nolan’s "Batman Begins"; the Jet Li actioner "Unleashed," written by Luc Besson; and the comedy "Bruce Almighty" and its sequel, "Evan Almighty." He also lent his distinctive voice to Steven Spielberg’s "War of the Worlds" and the Oscar-winning documentary "March of the Penguins."

His earlier film credits include "The Sum of All Fears," "High Crimes," "Along Came a Spider," "Nurse Betty," "Deep Impact," "Hard Rain," Steven Spielberg’s "Amistad," "Kiss the Girls," "Se7en," Clint Eastwood’s "Unforgiven," "Glory," "Lean on Me," "Clean and Sober," "Marie," "Teachers," "Harry & Son" and "Brubaker."

In 1993, Freeman made his film directorial debut with "Bopha!" and soon after formed Revelations Entertainment. The company’s most recent production was the Brad Silberling comedy "10 Items or Less," in which Freeman starred with Paz Vega.

The Memphis-born actor began his career on New York stages in the early 1960s, following a stint as a mechanic in the Air Force. A decade later, he became a nationally known television personality when he created the popular character Easy Reader on the popular children’s show "The Electric Company."

Throughout the 1970s, he continued his work on stage, winning Drama Desk and Clarence Derwent Awards and receiving a Tony Award nomination for his performance in "The Mighty Gents" in 1978. In 1980, he won Obie Awards for his portrayal of Shakespearean anti-hero Coriolanus at the New York Shakespeare Festival and for his work in "Mother Courage and Her Children." Freeman won another Obie in 1984 for his performance as The Messenger in the acclaimed Brooklyn Academy of Music production of Lee Breuer’s "The Gospel at Colonus" and, in 1985, won the Drama-Logue Award for the same role. In 1987, Freeman created the role of Hoke Coleburn in Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Driving Miss Daisy," which brought him his fourth Obie. In 1990, Freeman starred as Petruchio in the New York Shakespeare Festival’s "The Taming of the Shrew," opposite Tracey Ullman.

Returning to the stage, Freeman is currently starring on Broadway with Frances McDormand and Peter Gallagher in Clifford Odett’s drama "The Country Girl," directed by Mike Nichols

"The Dark Knight" Academy Award Nominations

8 Academy Award Oscar Nominations

"The Dark Knight" Movie Review - "The Dark Knight" starring Christian Bale & Heath Ledger

© Tribune Media Services