The Batman

Catwoman and Batman

The Batman. Let’s get the plot out of the way first, since it’s the most straightforward aspect of the latest bulletin from Gotham City. A caped crusader, a trio of villains in the shape of Paul Dano’s Riddler, Colin Farrell’s Penguin and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, a campaign of murder being waged against city officials. The mayor dies first, in the opening moments of the film, forcing Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to call in Batman – he rates the mysterious vigilante but no one else does. Along the way Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) becomes involved, a good girl in this version, and a crimefighting sidekick, should Batman want one, which he doesn’t seem to. And possible love interest, again if Batman wants one.

As someone whose favourite Batmen are Adam West and Ben Affleck, this Batman is quite a challenge – RPatz as the caped crusader. In fact, as co-writer/director Matt Reeves discussed when news of the film first broke, the choice of Robert Pattinson brings some useful casting baggage with it. Like Bruce Wayne, Pattinson has grown up in public, has learned to adjust to great fame early on and has developed a strategy of dealing with the whole damn thing. In Pattinson’s case, just getting on and making films one after the other, starring in some, taking support roles in others, always aiming to do decent work – the jobbing actor. As for this iteration of Bruce Wayne, the poor once-orphaned billionaire has become a recluse, allowing his alter ego, the masked near-psychopath Batman, to represent him.

Bigger, darker, more gothic. There, I said it. It’s been the standard line on all the Batmans since Tim Burton re-invented the character for the screen all those years ago. And somehow, Reeves has managed to find a way to make his Batman – The Batman, goddamit – even more sombre, gigantic and stygian.

But beneath all the murk, The Batman is a plea for a return to normality. For governments to govern, for city officials not to be corrupt, for Batmen to be allowed to go about their crime-fighting business. Intercession is its overarching idea – what is Batman but an intermediary in the whole process of crime and justice? – and composer Michael Giacchino makes this clear with his choice of musical theme, Schubert’s Ave Maria, a sung prayer beseeching a higher authority to pray for us, help us, now and at the hour of our death.

Bruce Wayne with shirt off
Bruce Wayne, emo kid



If Christian Bale was the growling Batman, Pattinson is the whispering one, a 1970s Clint Eastwood calmly and impassively going about his business with narrowed eyes, while his villainous opponents function almost as Scorsese criminals – they’re gangsters more than anything else, most obviously in the shape of Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, the goodfella crime boss. As for the other two, there is no Lycra or fancy attire here. Paul Dano’s Riddler wears a kind of gimp mask with spectacles and is a creepy and original re-invention of an old favourite. Dano refers vocally to Frank Gorshin’s Riddler (Adam West era) a couple of times, but otherwise this is all his. Colin Farrell, unrecognisable under the latex, is a much more straightforward bad guy, a hoodlum. For all Farrell’s brilliance in the role, Penguin suffers from the same affliction as Falcone. The unwritten rule of Batman states that there’s only really room for one fleshed-out villain in each story, and this time out it’s not him.

For all its fantastic parts, the actors, the acting, the set design, The Batman a lumpy and formless whole. There is no real story. It’s a fairly event-free zone, and largely comprises Batman turning up at the scene of a crime, not saying very much, and then standing there like a big lump before heading off to glower at the scene of yet another crime. At various points we see that Bruce Wayne wears also black eye make up beneath the mask, to complete the effect. Along with Pattinson’s floppy longish hair dyed dark, it’s tempting to see Wayne as a shut-in emo kidult, a My Chemical Romance fan who’s never quite grown up. Bruce Wayne has daddy issues. So, too, does Catwoman, we later learn. So, almost inevitably, does Riddler. Penguin, Falcone… this isn’t their story.

It’s a fascinating film rather than a really entertaining one, never boring but oddly not gripping. It’s probably worth watching more than once, not least to drink in Reeves’s stylistic borrowings from epic movies of the silent era – all those vast tableaux, a colour palette tending to the monotone, cameras far more static than usual. This is only fitting – 100 years ago, in his mask and cape, Douglas Fairbanks invented all this stuff with The Mark of Zorro, after all.







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© Steve Morrissey 2022









There Will Be Blood

Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

15 May

 

Standard Oil declared a monopoly, 1911

On this day in 1911, the American oil company Standard Oil was ruled to be a monopoly by the US Supreme Court.

Set up only in 1870 by the industrialist John D Rockefeller and his associates, the company was efficient and focused and had grown rapidly, first becoming dominant in refining, where it used its early lead to price competitors out of the market or buy them up, before moving on to production and distribution, where it used similar tactics to squeeze out or buy out competitors.

By 1882 the company was already fighting state legislation designed to rein it in. To counter this, it established a skein of ghost companies, all of which owed allegiance to Standard Oil, creating the “trust” model of the multinational megacorporation.

By 1890, the legislation against the company’s practices had become national, with Congress passing the Sherman Antitrust Act, a landmark piece of legislation that gave the federal government the power to intervene when it considered that a market had become sclerotic.

The Sherman Act’s guiding principle was that it was against the “restraint of trade” by whatever means, though it was targeted at companies that sought to monopolise.

Standard Oil was soon in its sights, and it also became a target for “muckraking” journalists who used Standard as a focus for a general ill-feeling against monopolies.

Ironically, as Standard came under Federal scrutiny as a result of the passing of the act, its share of the market was slipping – it had controlled 91 per cent of production and 85 per cent of sales in 1904. Market share of finished products was down to 70 per cent in 1906 and to 64 per cent in 1911, when the company was ordered to be broken up.

Of the 34 companies that Standard Oil was broken up into, Standard Oil of New Jersey later became Exxon, Standard Oil of New York eventually became Mobil, Standard Oil of Indiana became Amoco and Standard Oil of California became Chevron.

 

 

 

There Will Be Blood (2007, dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)

There Will Be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Citizen Kane. The story of how a character gained it all and lost something on the way, it stars Daniel Day Lewis as the elemental sounding Daniel Plainview, a man whose credo is “I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people”.

The film starts with Plainview digging for silver, a man swinging a pick with the ferocity of someone who simply has to succeed. It then follows him from these early struggles through a long tangle with the equally elementally named preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who had first given him the tip that Standard Oil were sniffing about a local farm with a view to drilling for oil – the tip was a good one and allowed Plainview to get in first and get rich.

That’s it, for most of the film, a dance between a phonily sanctimonious creep of a preacher and a booming, self-invented huckster. If you’re looking for some metaphor for America, you don’t need to go far.

Day Lewis nicks Daniel Plainview’s character wholesale from John Huston as Noah Cross in Chinatown, that booming voice, those pregnant pauses. And in truth Cross and Plainview are both very similar characters – boosters (that one water, this one oil) whose actual main purpose is the boosting of the self.

Dano is more original and, controversial view, better – he was the best thing in 12 Year a Slave too, though only in it for scant minutes – here as a man whose soul can almost be seen through the windows of his eyes, and it doesn’t look pretty.

They’re an epic pair, this behemoth and the worm, and Anderson works the epic levers to great effect – the big majestic western landscapes, the daguerreotype look of Robert Elswit’s cinematography, Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood’s Gorecki-esque score, percussively straining yet always withholding.

If you were being picky, you might accuse Anderson of perhaps reaching too readily for the epic lever, of producing something closer to the masks and codification of Noh theatre or of the didactic instructional of Pilgrim’s Progress than to living, breathing cinema.

But then PT Anderson is a deeply moral film-maker, even the porn-dressed Boogie Nights waved a big message. But you can’t say that this stripped back, epically dressed morality play doesn’t have its payoff. As the film winds to a tragic close and Plainview is wandering around his gigantic mansion alone, like Charles Foster Kane in Xanadu, he knows that now he’s got this far there is only one logical next step.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • An epic
  • Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano’s perfectly matched performances
  • Production designer Jack Fisk’s oil frontier-town
  • Johnny Greenwood’s score

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

There Will Be Blood – at Amazon