Jim Emerson Dissects The Action In THE DARK KNIGHT

A smart film critic takes one action scene apart, cut by cut.

Warning: what follows is heavy film theory. If you’re not interested in watching the entire 20 minute video embedded below, please don’t bother joining the discussion. If you’re not interested in film theory, please don’t bother joining the discussion. I’m being serious about this.

The great Jim Emerson has put together a semi-exhaustive look at the action filmmaking during the convoy chase scene in The Dark Knight and it’s pretty fantastic. Many people have said that Christopher Nolan shoots action that is incoherent or slapdash, but Emerson takes the time to explain, cut by cut, why that is.

For some viewers this level of examination is frustrating. These viewers, it seems to me, have been raised on a diet of action that is intentionally impressionistic, action that doesn’t cut together in any real way but that expresses a sense of action. And so Nolan’s style has the direction of the action within the frame jumping all over the place, has what appear to be POV shots that actually have no POV and in general is sloppy and unrewarding.

Emerson acknowledges that some viewers may prefer this style of action filmmaking, although I can’t personally understand why. This is similar to the ground we covered with Matthias Stork’s Chaos Cinema film; while there are legitimate uses for styles that accentuate incoherence over cinematic readability, I don’t think The Dark Knight’s straight-line car chase is one of them.

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

Thanks to the many folks who sent this on to me.

I encourage spirited debate about this below, but if your opinion is that Emerson is being a whiny nitpicker, keep it to yourself so we don’t have to you that we think you’re a braindead bore.