Film review – The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

19 July 2012
The Dark Knight Rises: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway)

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway)

The most striking thing about the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is it looks like a real film. In an era when shooting a Hollywood blockbuster on actual film and not filming in 3D is a novelty, The Dark Knight Rises stands out for looking like something tangible as opposed to a hyperactive virtual world created on a computer. Even the elements of the film created with CGI have a photorealistic tactile quality to them; further validating Nolan’s decision to resist digital filmmaking. Not that Nolan isn’t a technical innovator as demonstrated by the film’s impressive scenes shot in IMAX and the visceral sound design where every bullet, grind of metal and kick to the head sounds like a mini symphony.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fine piece of cinema that successfully mixes outlandish comic book scenarios with a gritty realism that gives the proceedings an alarming plausibility. Curiously, it doesn’t deliver the adrenalin rush moments that were present throughout Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). It’s a much bigger film in scope with more at stake, bigger set pieces, grander themes and a far more complex narrative, but the results offer a different level of engagement than a mythical origins story or a showdown between two extreme personalities with more in common than one of them would like to think. The Dark Knight Rises is a tonally different film that successfully establishes a scenario of complete despair where much of the action seems futile. Within this bleak context the biggest spark of life is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (better known as Catwoman in the original comics) who is not only involved in the film’s most exciting fight sequences, but becomes an ethically dubious anti-hero in a film exploring complex ethical terrain.

Similar to The Amazing Spider-Man, this is a film where the superhero persona takes a background to the ‘real life’ persona of the protagonist. While Peter Parker learning to reconcile his identity as Spider-Man is a coming-of-age narrative, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) coming to terms with what Batman stands for becomes a story of the old guard making way for the next generation. Wayne begins the film as a physically and psychologically damaged man and spends a good deal of the film grappling with how useful Batman is to his own sense of self and to the community of Gotham City. Characters from the previous films and important new characters express a variety of opinions, contributing to the film’s intriguing exploration of individualism versus social cohesion and truth versus myth.

The political arena that unfolds offers an enticing range of arguments about how to interpret the downfall of Gotham City, which is overtly linked to various recent American crises such as domestic and international terrorism, the global financial crisis and the Occupy movement. On the one hand, The Dark Knight Rises could be read as a hysterical conservative vision of socialism. The film’s villain Bane (Tom Hardy) is identified early in the film as a super terrorist with quasi-fundamentalist religious zeal. His plans to obliterate the rule of law, undermine the financial sector and return Gotham to the people results in a nightmarish scenario that plays upon every fear perpetrated by plutocrats who feel that their powerbase may be threatened. Bane and his followers are a disturbing fusion of fundamentalist terrorism with a perverse version of a people’s revolution.

And yet, the film is not that simple. The oppressive collectivism that Bane offers is one of mob rule that exploits the simmering hatred and resentment that is the result of the Zero Tolerance approach to crime initiated by the late Harvey Dent. Furthermore, Dent has been given near sainthood status, his psychotic and homicidal behaviour suppressed in order to maintain his myth. He is presented as a visionary leader despite having ended up as the Gotham equivalent of a war criminal. When a population places unquestioning faith in the false prophet that is a charismatic leader guilty of vast sins, the resulting order will eventually be undermined. In The Dark Knight Rises Bane is the figure that does the undoing. He is not an external threat, but the product of a civilisation that is sick to the core.

Furthermore, this is not a film where a lone individual defends the population against a socialist-style enemy. Bruce Wayne does not act alone in The Dark Knight Rises and the intertwining storylines within the film exist to facilitate an ensemble of characters working together to fight back, using brains, brawn and the ideal of Batman. The most interesting character in the film is Selina Kyle who is able to undermine Wayne physically and intellectually, as well as challenge his life of material privilege in a world of inequality. While Hathaway’s Kyle possesses the same moral uncertainty that the character does in the comics she is still a sympathetic character in the film. Her anti-one percent attitude is represented as markedly different to Bane’s exploitive manipulation of a population’s discontent and pandering to criminality. If anything The Dark Knight Rises could be regarded as a warning for how radicals with dreams of puritanical world domination get what they want by manipulating the corporate and financial sectors, and hijacking technology.

The Dark Knight Rises is about an older generation accepting their mistakes and maintaining as much dignity as possible while facing the consequences. The ‘rise’ of the title becomes a literal plot point that also serves as a symbolic rebirth where Wayne re-enters a new world where the people deserve the truth instead of faith in symbols. If Batman Begins was an independence story about a city rejecting the rule of an exploitive criminal class and The Dark Knight was a war film about sacrificing liberty to combat an unimaginable threat, then The Dark Knight Rises is a film about the need to return to a more civilised time now that the war (or perceived war) is over. Otherwise, that civilisation will turn against itself and reproduce the destructive elements that it was once fighting against in the first place. The time of symbolism and individualism is over and the generation that identifies with such notions need to clean up any mess they have left behind and then move on. Gotham is No City for Old Costumed Vigilante Men as a new dawn approaches.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

Film review – One Day (2011)

1 September 2011
One Day: Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway)

Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Anne Hathaway)

Is Danish director Lone Scherfig creating a new genre of revisionist romantic films? Her three English-language films on the surface all appear to be mainstream romantic dramas with their soft-lighting, seductive soundtracks, appealing characters and warm ambiance. However, underneath the boy-meets-girl narratives are challenging and uncomfortable themes that seem designed to deliberately undermine romantic conventions. Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002) is about suicide, An Education (2009) is about a relationship between a teenage girl and an older man with dubious motives, and now One Day is about missed opportunities and failing to embrace the moment. Even Scherfig’s break-through film Italian for Beginners (2000), made under the stylistic restrictions of the Dogme 95 movement, features a lot of grief and death amid the various romantic storylines. While One Day is Scherfig’s least accomplished film, it still contains what is becoming her trademark blend of enticing film style and dark thematic undercurrents, resulting in a film that is both romantic and unsettling.

Adapted by And When Did You Last See Your Father? scriptwriter David Nicholls from his own 2009 novel, One Day is intriguingly structured. It tells the story of its two protagonists across twenty years by only depicting events that occur each year on 15 July. Inevitably some of the events that occur on that day are conveniently of monumental importance, but mostly the days are used to provide an impression of how the characters have progressed, or failed to progress, twelve months on from when we last saw them. This extreme elliptical device does result in two decades flying by very quickly. While the novel presumably dwelt on the significance of each day with more depth, in the film it does feel more like a series of snapshots designed to simply flag where we are at in the narrative.

One Day: Emma (Anne Hathaway)

Emma (Anne Hathaway)

The two protagonists are Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), who have an awkward encounter early in the morning on 15 July 2010 after their graduation and then spend the next twenty years navigating their resulting friendship. They are obviously attracted to each other sexually and romantically, but as One Day is a drama and not a screwball comedy, the audience are left uncertain if they will ever move out of the friend’s zone. A major problem with One Day is it struggles to maintain interest in whether or not this will happen, due to the unevenness of character development and presentation.

An immense amount of sympathy is established early on for shy and low self-esteemed Emma. On the other hand, Dexter comes across as obnoxious and self-absorbed and it’s difficult to see what Emma likes in him even as a friend. Scherfig knows how to make an audience empathise with theoretically dislikeable characters, as she demonstrated with the Lars Kaalund character in Italian for Beginners, but Dexter doesn’t have enough depth to make the audience care about what happens to him. Dexter’s flaws should make him the more interesting character but he’s not. Meanwhile Emma is largely reduced to his object of desire.

One Day: Dexter (Jim Sturgess)

Dexter (Jim Sturgess)

And yet, despite the patchiness (including an out-of-place Meet the Parents sequence involving a family game gone wrong) and the heavily signposted and melodramatic plot points, One Day concludes magnificently. The final scenes in the film significantly redeem a lot of what had come previously and distinguish it as a Lone Scherfig film rather than a slightly above average romance with a quirky approach to narrative. By colliding the past and the present through editing, Scherfig fills in a lot of the gaps about why Emma and Dexter continued to be in each other’s lives and how that will resonate in the future. By doing so, Scherfig does what she does best – slyly subverts the romance genre.

The sting in the tail is that One Day is not a film about the whims of fate, but a film about the disappointments and regrets that result from not acting on opportunities when they are presented and being blind to what is around you. It’s about squandering good fortune, wasting life pursuing trivialities, settling for second best and the cruelty of self-realisation coming later in life when it is needed much earlier. There are some beautiful moments in the final fifteen minutes or so of One Day, giving it a brilliantly melancholic resolution to an otherwise mild film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Rachel Getting Married (2008)

10 February 2009
Kym (Anne Hathaway)

Kym (Anne Hathaway)

Recovering drug addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) leaves rehab to spend the weekend at her family home for her sister’s wedding. The house is filled with artistic and musical friends and family and the mood is one of celebration. However Kym brings with her a series of misfortunes and past tragedies that still weigh heavily on her family. Anne Hathaway’s abilities as an actor were already evident after her performances in Brokeback Mountain and even The Devil Wears Prada but she is truly astonishing in Rachel Getting Married as Kym. It is almost inconceivable that she recently appeared in the dire Bride Wars, as Rachel Getting Married with all its sincerity, moving performances and likeable characters is the complete antithesis of that film.

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Film review – Bride Wars (2009)

14 January 2009

Liv (Kate Hudson) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) are best friends who have always dreamed of the perfect wedding with each other as their maid of honour. However, when they both get engaged and end up competing for the same venue, on the same day, at the same time, their friendship completely falls apart. With a story about best friends and rivalries between women, it is clear that Bride Wars is aimed at a young female audience as it is also filled with fashion, snappy dialogue, and lots of screaming whenever something goes wrong…or when something really good happens. However, it is difficult imagining anybody enjoying Bride Wars. It is not clever or dark enough for its depressing attitude towards women to be satire and it is not funny enough to be light, frivolous and fun.

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