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Movie review: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Director: Christopher Nolan

Rating: 9/10

There are two main questions being asked about this movie - does it live up to the hype and does Heath Ledger give the performance of his career? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes.

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Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan has taken the promising premise he started with Batman Begins, when he hit the reset button on the franchise, and turned The Dark Knight into the new standard bearer of comic book adaptations. In fact this is hardly comic book at all, it is an epic, dark, brooding crime drama that sits easily with the likes of Michael Mann's Heat as a searing pot-boiler of good versus evil.

The film feels completely real, despite the movie's origins. Gone are the faux-gothic statues and over-the-top sets from the earlier movies. Gotham now feels, looks and acts like a real city, because in all intense purposes it is with Chicago the setting. We even get to see beyond the Gotham city limits as the movie shifts to Hong Kong for one impressive set piece.

The story, often forgotten or too unnecessarily convoluted in most comic book adaptations, is straight forward in The Dark Knight. The Gotham crime syndicates are fed up with Batman ruining business so they hire the very unhinged Joker to rid themselves of the winged pest. Meanwhile a new District Attorney, Aaron Eckhart, is pledging to cut down on corruption both on the streets and in the police department.

No disrespect to any of the other actors - but this film belongs to Ledger. The hype is true! He cuts a truly chilling figure on screen - his Joker is snarling, maniacal and terrific, dare I say it even charming at some stages. You really don't know what he is going to do in each scene, he keeps the audience on the edge, and when he does unleash, it is with a fury and intensity rarely seen on screen. Wait until you see what he does with a pencil!

Ledger, who died in January from an accidental overdose, has given the world an iconic performance in his last completed role and should rightly get an Oscar nomination next year.

Gary Oldman is another standout as the last-of-the-good cops Lieutenant Gordon. He is the soul of the movie, a good family man trying to rid the city of corruption. You completely forget this is the actor which has done his fair share of scarring audiences in Hannibal, Leon and True Romance.

Christian Bale eases more comfortably into his Bat suit, quite literally, this time around. I never thought he looked at home as the leading man in a big mega-bucks movie, but he convinces as the torn hero. He plays a Batman keen to retire to his playboy lifestyle and hand over the reigns to the new face of good in town District Attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart).  The fact that Dent is now dating former squeeze Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes from Batman Begins) also complicates matters.

Veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine add gravitas to their world-weary roles while Eckhart also brings a charm to his character, one which is ultimately doomed.

There are some flaws - the movie's two and a half hours length does feel a bit long, some scenes are a little rushed and Gyllenhaal, fine actress that she is, gets very little to do.

But they are minor quibbles. The Dark Knight is a thumping great action film which grabs the audience by the collar from the first scene, throws them left-right and centre before leaving them crumpled up in a sweaty heap by the time the credits roll.