Friday, 20 June 2008

Batman Begins


Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes & Liam Neeson

Starting from scratch (and mercifully ignoring the previous four Batman films) the origins and genesis of Batman are laid bare in Christopher Nolan’s, Batman Begins. From the slaying of his parents to his training under Ra’s Al Ghul (Watanabe) and Henri Ducard (Neeson), the psychological and physical transformation of Bruce Wayne (Bale) into Batman is explored in all its layers. Business then moves to Gotham, where Wayne regains his title of affluent playboy millionaire before embarking on his crusade as the Dark Knight. Alfred, the butler (Caine) is on hand to lend support and guidance, while Wayne Enterprise’s, Lucius Fox (Freeman), becomes an ally, providing the suits, weapons, batmobile and even replacement ears for the crime-fighting hero. Wayne/Batman also finds an ally in Police Commissioner Gordon (Oldman) to help fight the onslaught of Gotham goons. These include the ever-so-slightly bonkers Dr. Jonathon Crane aka The Scarecrow (Murphy), oily gangster, Carmine Falcone (Wilkinson), shady beaurocrat, Earle (Hauer) and a possible fourth mysterious nemesis. These torn from the comic book page’s villains are out to poison Gotham’s water supply and unsurprisingly destroy the city in the process.

The film has been criticised for its indecipherable action scenes, and while it is hard to tell what is happening in some of them, the shaky camerawork and rapid editing lends a brutal and realistic quality to the action. The fight and escape from Ra’s Al Ghul’s palace is extremely rushed but come the second half Nolan has found his action chops, turning the picture into an exhilarating thrill ride. Once the crime-fighting starts and the bad guys are introduced, Nolan pulls out all the stops in an almost operatic barrage of action and suspense. The tone is dark and violent (The Scarecrow’s hallucinations pushing the 12A certificate to its limit) and, while there is plenty of crime-fighting and villains galore, the impact on Wayne’s psyche is still explored in all its frailty to give a human balance to the mounting destruction. The music is fitting and a welcome injection of humour lightens things up just enough.

Bale, Freeman and Caine all bounce off each effortlessly. Bale is a confident and striking Batman and easily fills the suit (both physically and metaphorically) best out of all the actors who have portrayed the character. Caine, Oldman, Freeman, Wilkinson and Neeson are all on excellent form and seem to be having a great time in such a big film. Murphy is adequately creepy as The Scarecrow but is “killed off” all too quickly and conveniently. Only Holmes fails to register, with a thankless and self-righteous role as the ever do-good and bland, Rachel Dawes. The biggest surprise is Rutger Hauer. Believed to be doomed to direct-to-video oblivion, he gives his best performance in years as the repellent Earle. It is also a much bigger part than the trailers suggested and it’s great to see him on the big screen again (bring his character back for the sequel).

Mention should also be given to the look of the film. Adequately dark and gothic without being over stylized, Wally Pfister’s camerawork gives a realistic tone to the fantasy city of Gotham. But special mention should go to the Batmobile chase scene. Featuring the hauling mass, The Tumbler, as the Batmobile, this chase scene is a remarkable achievement of technical and action cinema. Thrilling and destructive, the chase is a mini masterpiece all of its own. The Tumbler drives across church rooftops and sends police cars flipping in a sequence that proves Nolan can cut it with the action. The climatic fight and train chase is no let down either.

Nolan is a gifted auteur and bringing his indie sensibilities to a blockbuster has certainly paid off (apparently he shot the whole things himself, overseeing everything and refusing a second unit). Breathe is bated for the sequel, The Dark Knight.

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