Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on The Dark Knight (2008)

A review on Hollywood feature length film, The Dark Knight (2008). The film is directed by Christopher Nolan and is the second film in the Dark Knight trilogy. The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

+ Crew I

  • Directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Cinematography by Wally Pfister
  • Story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
  • Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
  • Edited by Lee Smith
  • Produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Warner Bros. Pictures
  • DC Comics
  • Legendary Pictures
  • Syncopy

+ Note

After the success of Batman Begins which rebooted the Batman franchise for a new generation of fans, Christopher Nolan was given full reign to create a sequel for Warner Bros. with the continuation of the Dark Knight saga. The budget this time around was significantly larger and Nolan brought in his brother Jonathan Nolan to co-write the screenplay with him. Two new villains were to be introduced; Heath Ledger as the Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/ Two Face. 

Interestingly enough, Nolan originally wanted Ledger to play Batman in the first film but was ultimately rejected. Many prominent actors such as Adrian Brody, Robin Williams and Paul Bettany sparked interest for the role of the Joker but Nolan was adamant on Ledger for the Clown Prince of Crime. As was the realistic tone of the first film, Nolan wanted Ledger to move far away from Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and bring his own psychotic interpretation of the character. And with that, it was mostly all Ledger from there. The iconic Chemical Factory mishap origin story was retconned and instead, the messy face paint makeup and scarred smile became the character’s iconic personification. The scenes of Handy cam Footage of the Joker were all staged and planned by Heath Ledger himself. During Production, everyone was at awe with Ledger’s performance and knew it was “something special”. Sadly such intense method acting also encouraged the actor into increasing his prescription drugs which ultimately took his own life before the film was even released.

With the sequel, Nolan wanted to experiment more with Batman’s detective skills while Havery Dent served the role as his counterpart. One of the main reasons for the addition of Two Face was to garner sympathy from the audience that the Joker character could not provide in the film. The filming started around 2007 and was primarily shot in the city of Chicago, USA. Even before the film’s release, The Dark Knight was already being hailed as a “Masterpiece” in the Superhero genre, particularly Ledger’s ecstatic performance. The film turned out to be a massive hit at the box office, earning $ 1 Billion worldwide and thus, Batman was once again the superhero of this generation.

+ Main Cast

  1. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman
  2. Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
  3. Heath Ledger as the Joker
  4. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent
  5. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes
  6. Gary Oldman as James Gordon
  7. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox
  8. Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow

+ Plot

After the events of Batman Begins, detective Gordon and Batman combine forces to clean the streets of Gotham from the corruption and terror that it once consumed. The district attorney Havery Dent plans on destroying the criminal infrastructure himself which could leave the Dark Knight’s role ‘obsolete’ as the masked vigilante. Meanwhile, a mysterious psychopath in clown makeup is terrorizing the underworld, calling himself the Joker. He plans nothing more than throwing the city into total anarchy. 

Could Batman and Dent save the city from this monster or will one of them fall into the dark path of utter chaos and destruction of Humanity?

+ High Points

i – To call The Dark Knight  a mere ‘great superhero movie’ is such an understatement. The Dark Knight IS a great film. Period. Nolan’s impeccable direction sets a new bar of what action/ Blockbuster films can be. From the opening Bank Robbery scene to the caped crusader riding on his Bat motorcycle away into the night, every moment, every scene is masterfully crafted. The character arcs, the pacing of each scene, everything is carefully and meticulously preconceived and executed, easily making the film to be one of the Best Films of the Decade. In 2002, Sam Raimi’s Spider-man may have kicked off this super hero revival but it is The Dark Knight that elevated it to an immense high standard of filmmaking.

ii – The Dark Knight is what every sequel should be. It is what The Godfather II was, what Terminator 2 accomplished. Whatever flaws the first film had, Nolan ironed out all the creases and relied heavily on his strengths and allowed his actors to bring their own set of skills to the table. This film is a textbook example of how a sequel should be made.

iii – The film entails excellent performances but all of them get overshadowed by the legendary performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker (and with good reason!). His mysterious ‘multiple choice’ past, his eccentric mannerisms, the antithesis of Batman makes Joker such a unique portrayal that we had perhaps never witnessed on the big screen. With immense heavy method acting, Ledger plunged deep into the psyche of the Joker and easily dominated every scene he was a part of. Although the film is called The Dark Knight, it is in fact the Joker who steals the show.

iv – Even though David Goyer is a great storyteller, it is the Nolan brothers that translate that work onscreen as a masterful three act structure of filmmaking. It is a perfect blend of high intensity scenes and the quieter moments of the film, serving as textbook screenwriting for every other action film hereafter.

v – What is the distinction between Good and Evil? Are they both different sides of the same coin? Is Evil only a misguided personification of Good? Do some good people only need one bad day to turn sides? The question was first asked in the epic Batman graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’ and has now been immensely explored in The Dark Knight. This brings such high voltage tension between good and evil throughout the film. As a viewer, you are constantly engaged in a battle of who to sympathize and who to root for till the end of the film. It’s not a coincidence that many fans flocked towards the Joker’s perception of the world (even though it is highly flawed and inhumane).

vi – The film starts off with an absolutely fantastic opening Bank Robbery scene. Perfectly sets the tone and pacing of the narrative right from the get-go. And it’s one helluva ride from thereon out!

vii – The car chase scene through the gritty streets of ‘Gotham’ is alone a strong conviction that The Dark Knight is like no other superhero film before it. Nolan’s insistence on shooting with Film and practical effects are highly rewarding onscreen. It is one of the greatest action scenes ever put in modern American filmmaking.

viii – The supporting cast is also no pushover. Every actor brings their A game onto this epic journey and thus, every scene feels intense and exciting to witness. Gary Oldman (once again) is exceptionally brilliant as Detective Gordon and the only ally to the masked vigilante. 

ix – Even though the ‘realistic’ world of Nolan’s Batman might prove too bleak for some viewers, there is not a single moment throughout the film where Nolan is not in control of his work. The city of Chicago (where the film was mostly shot in) creates a plausible depiction of a ‘realistic’ Batman of today without indulging in excessive brute force and losing the sense of Batman’s character (something Zack Synder’s Batman v Superman utterly failed to accomplish). Most violence and blood spree is kept off screen, creating a sense of dread and despondence in the atmosphere. The film shows how well rehearsed Nolan and his team were with the Dark Knight from its source material and reimagined it in such a convincing fashion.

x – I cannot conclude the ‘High Points’ without mentioning its undeniable influence onto American cinema. Unsurprisingly, the film was a massive success at the Box Office, elevating the Superhero genre of films to a whole new level. Even after more than a decade, its impact on superhero/ action films is unquestionable. Although Marvel Studios cracked the formula of superhero Blockbuster success, The Dark Knight still sits high on its throne due to its craftsmanship.

+ Low Points

i – With such masterful filmmaking on display, not everything is (unfortunately) flawless about the film. The character arc of Harvey Dent is slightly rushed and not given enough time for the viewer to sympathise with his inevitable downfall from grace. Perhaps if Harvey Dent was briefly introduced in Batman Begins to the audience, his plunge into insanity in this film would’ve proven much more impactful.  

ii – With such brilliant practical effects throughout the film, the sparingly used CGI unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb (namely, Two Face’s CGI face).

iii – While the city of Chicago serves well in Nolan’s world as Gotham City, it does come off as somewhat bland and turns out to be unmemorable in the long run.

+ Overall

The testament of every great film has to be its influence and contribution to Cinema and the art of filmmaking. And this film has it in spades. With superb performances, impeccable direction and memorable moments, The Dark Knight is still the pinnacle and one of the very best in the genre. True, not every superhero film needs to be The Dark Knight but every superhero film deserves to be compared to it.

Rate: 5 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Mank (2020)

A review on American feature length film, Mank (2020). The film is directed by David Fincher (The Game, Fight Club, Zodiac) and is produced by Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski. Mank is a Netflix Original Film. 

+ Crew

  • Directed by David Fincher 
  • Cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt
  • Written by Jack Fincher
  • Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
  • Edited by Kirk Baxter
  • Produced by Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski

+ Note

Mank’s screenplay was conceived as early as 1997 by David Fincher’s father Jack Fincher and originally, Kevin Spacey and Jodie Foster were considered for the lead roles. The project never came to fruition due to insistence by Fincher to shoot it in Black and White. At first, Jack Fincher’s script closely followed the claim made by Pauline Kael’s article ‘Raising Kane’ which argued that the script for the legendary film Citizen Kane was solely written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles had no involvement in it whatsoever. Following rewrites, David changed the “Anti-Welles” stance to a more neutral perspective over this argument. The film closely follows Mankiewicz’s journey in the Golden Age of Hollywood and his initial first draft of arguably the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane.

+ Main Cast

  1. Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz
  2. Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies
  3. Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, 
  4. Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer
  5. Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  6. Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst
  7. Sam Troughton as John Houseman
  8. Ferdinand Kingsley as Irving Thalberg
  9. Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman’s wife
  10. Tom Burke as Orson Welles

+ Plot

The film follows the life of a famous Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz who is most famously known for co-writing the screenplay for the legendary film, Citizen Kane. While being a creative genius, Mank is an alcoholic and his witty yet pessimistic view of the world runs deep into the absurd Hollywood lifestyle of the Golden Age of Cinema.

For a decent amount of cash, Orson Welles hires Mank to write a screenplay for his debut film in Hollywood, serving as a ghostwriter to the script. But upon working on the script in just a few weeks time, Mank instantly grows attached to his work and perhaps the cynicism of his finally breaks down as he starts considering Citizen Kane as his most personal work ever.

+ High Points

i – Since its a David Fincher film, one can expect precision in its craftsmanship and Mank does not disappoint in the slightest. Sharp, witty banter between the legendary idols of Hollywood really brings authenticity yet charm to the center stage. The composition, set designs, aluminous lighting, montages (especially the election night scene); everything comes together to convince the audience that they are in fact, watching a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

ii – Mank was originally filmed in 8k but brought significantly down to film resolution of the 1940s. With cigarette burns, dust particles added to create the illusion of a dusty old film reel, Mank is visually impressive and remarkably visualized.

iii – As a film buff myself, it’s so much fun to see Hollywood greats like Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and of course, Orson Welles himself depicted onscreen and played wonderfully by all the actors embracing their counterparts.

iv – As far as performances go, Gary Oldman once again steals the show with his impeccable performance as the tired, old alcoholic genius of a writer Mank. This film would’ve never worked if not for its enigmatic lead and Oldman is more than up for the task.

v – The slow, anonymous music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross really brings out the deceptive atmosphere of the Studio mandated Hollywood at the time. The full orchestral soundtrack has a touch of ‘Hitchcock’ to it. It’s memorable, brilliant and in the same vain as many works of John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and Alexandre Desplat.

+ Low Points

i – The biggest issue with Mank is the inaccessibility of anyone who is not knees deep into the Citizen Kane lore. As a viewer, you really need to have certain knowledge of William Randolph Hearst and the making of Citizen Kane in order to follow the film. Audience members who are not well rehearsed into any of this will most probably find the film dull and I really can’t blame them.

ii – Mank is very similar to Fincher’s previous film; The Social Network, for better and for worse. While its characters are all mostly interesting, each scene is cluttered with snappy dialogue and the result is mostly a dwindling sense of interest throughout the film. Not each scene is terribly interesting which endangers the viewer’s investment he/she has for the film. 

iii – For all that’s good about the film, Mank does lack the thread that binds the whole film together. There is no sense investment as a viewer that you want Mank to succeed writing that avant garde script that defies all expectations of Hollywood screenwriting. Scenes blend into one another, not creating any sense of progression as a narrative. By jumping between different timelines (the mid 30s and 1940), the film does try to justify Mank’s path to self-destruction but unfortunately, it’s not engaging enough to captivate your attention. 

iv –  The fictitious election night scene and fraud newsreel footage in the film really serve no purpose to the overall narrative of the film. MGM manipulated the media to spread false information? Sure, it fits the political climate of today but a baffling scene to insert into the film since this whole ordeal never happened in real life!

+ Overall

Mank is an Ode to old Hollywood and all its glorious past. In terms of its skills and craftsmanship, Fincher does everything right. But while you can admire and respect Fincher’s craftsmanship, the film lacks a sense of engagement to the overall narrative and is ultimately not an exciting experience that you would like to rewatch time and time again.

Rate: 3.25 out of 5 stars