Monday, June 20, 2005

Batman Begins - An Excellent Summer Movie

For Father's Day I went with my wife to the Point Orlando 21 Muvico to see "Batman Begins." Starring Christian Bale in the Batsuit and directed by Christopher Nolan, it has to be the best Batman movie produced so far, even better than Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman". What made the movie for me was director Nolan's attention to detail, his careful buildup of a structure that explained Bruce Wayne's motivation and character, and then the strong character interaction between all the actors. And when it came to acting, just about everybody in the movie did a really great job.

The cast for "Batman Begins" reads like an acting who's who ensemble. Everybody gave strong performances. My favorite characters were (in no particular order):
  • Christian Bale - His performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman was dead on. He didn't mince words or throw out funny one liners. His character was focused like a laser. He was also very human. He suffered bloody noises and bruises. In one scene where he was leaving Jim Gordon's (Gary Oldman) office, he kissed the side of a building pretty hard, and you could see he felt it. There is nothing "super" about this Batman, but this Batman's overcoming of his mortality and his fears makes him superb none-the-less.
  • Michael Caine - Michael Caine is back. I've not been particularly impressed with his roles over the past five years, but this time around it seemed he actually enjoyed playing Alfred. And why not? Bruce may own the mansion and have all the money, but Alfred gets to play with all the toys, as witnessed in one scene in the movie where the Wayne jet arrives (with Alfred comfortably seated and sipping champagne) to bring Bruce back home. Caine's Alfred is sharp, dedicated, and tosses out a few quick one liners that help to balance out Bruce's almost overwhelming seriousness. They make a good team on the screen. Here's an article on Micheal Caine where he discusses Batman and his other two current movies.
  • Liam Neeson - Liam was excellently cast as Ducard, the arch villan in this movie. As my wife says, all Liam and Michael have to do is show up and breath and it's a great performance. Some critics have complained about how Ducard, injured by Bruce early in the movie, magically shows up later in the movie to try and brind down Gotham. There's nothing magical. Bruce saved Ducard's life before heading back to Gotham, and as Bruce later realized, it was Ducard who was the real brains behind the League of Shadows.
  • Gary Oldman - I first became aware of Gary Oldman in "The Fifth Element" where he played the character Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg. He showed up again in "Air Force One" as Ivan Korshunov. And then I saw him a year later as Dr. Smith in the movie version of "Lost In Space." I didn't see anything that Oldman starred in until his role as Sirius Black in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." In all those movies he played energetic and forceful characters. This time around he was a good cop, constrained and quiet but never the less solid and powerful. He had to. No wimp could stay good surrounded by all the corruption his character had to live with. Oldman was another perfect cast.
  • Cillian Murphy - Plays Dr. Crane/Sandman. Murphy's character comes across as quite the slimy corrupt little pawn of the League of Shadows. The Sandman was a recurring character in the Batman comic books, so it was interesting to see him tasered (but not killed) by ADA Racheal Dawes. Murphy was also Jim in "28 Days Later", one of only two zombie movies I've ever liked (the other being "Shaun Of The Dead").
  • Tom Wilkinson - I've seen Tom Wilkinson in only one other movie before this, as Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis in "The Patriot", in which he played the aristocratic lead commander of the British "Southern strategy." His role as Carmine is diametrically opposite that of Cornwallis, a role where as an American-style mobster he chewed up the scenery with gusto. His short monologue to Bruce Wayne in the restaurant about not really knowing the ugly side of life was an instant classic.
  • Rutger Hauer - Although his role was not as extensive as other actors in this film, he played the greedy manipulative backstabbing CEO Earle to a tee. I've been watching Rutger Hauer in films since "Blade Runner", where he played Roy Batty. I thought he was fantastic in that film, acting rings around Harrison Ford. Over the long years Hauer has acted, he's been in some pretty bad stinkers. But this time he played up to his considerable abilities.
  • Linus Roache - Played a (too) short role as the elder Thomas Wayne. Polished and reserved, he still showed us his character's love and concern for his son. I last saw Linus Roach as the Purifier on the "Chronicles of Riddick".
  • Morgan Freeman - Last, but certainly not least, there's Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. As others have noted Lucius is Bruce Wayne's personal 'Q'. His portrayal of Lucius as brilliant technical mentor was superb. I would have liked to have seen more interaction between Alfred (Caine) and Lucius. The interplay between the two characters in the scene where Bruce Wayne is recovering from the adverse effects of exposure to the "weaponized" hallucinogen seemed to hint of interesting future possibilities. Whatever. I just flat-out like Morgan Freeman.
It's the acting and the characters that make this film great. There were plenty of special effects, but they only served to support the acting and the story, which is as it should be. If you really want to see a great adaptation of the Batman comics, then look no further than this film. The end of this movie is a setup for future sequels. I wait with anticipation for every one.

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