David Edelstein dared to go against the critical mass and now his e-mail inbox is paying the price.
Edelstein writes film reviews for New York magazine and he walked away from “The Dark Knight” with a strong opinion that the film was ponderous and bleak with a disturbing cruel streak. Here’s an excerpt:
“We’re now in a modern, untransformed Manhattan, where the Joker’s opening bank heist unfolds in a tense, realistic style with multiple point-blank shootings. It’s a shock — and very effective — to see a comic-book villain come on like a Quentin Tarantino reservoir dog. But then the novelty wears off and the lack of imagination, visual and otherwise, turns into a drag. The ‘Dark Knight’ is noisy, jumbled, and sadistic. Even its most wondrous vision — Batman’s plunges from skyscrapers, bat-wings snapping open as he glides through the night like a human kite — can’t keep the movie airborne. There’s an anvil attached to that cape.”
Yes, he made a bit of a hometown error there (the Gotham scenes of the movie were made in Chicago, not in his own New York) but it’s his point of view that really sent fans into a rage. The hate mail reached such a avalanche level, he responded with a second essay. Here’s his intriguing explanation:
“Why — apart from narcissistic injury — do I respond to the abuse? Because there has been a lot of chatter in the last few years that criticism is a dying profession, having been supplanted by the democratic voices of the Web. Not to get all Lee Siegel on you, but the Internet has a mob mentality that can overwhelm serious criticism. There is superb film writing in blogs and discussion groups — as good as anything I do. But there are also thousands of semi-literate tirades that actually reinforce the Hollywood status quo, that say: ‘If you do not like The Dark Knight (or The Phantom Menace), you should be fired because you do not speak for the people.'”
Well, the people don’t need to be spoken for. And a critic’s job is not only to steer you to movies you might not have heard of or that died at the box office. It’s also to bring a different, much-needed perspective on blockbusters like The Dark Knight.
Columnist Patrick Goldstein, my distinguished colleague here at The Times, has a take on this too at his must-read Hollywood blog, The Big Picture.
– Geoff Boucher
Update: Some readers inferred from my post that Edelstein left the screening of “The Dark Knight” early. He didn’t (as far as I know) so I have edited the post above to eliminate the imprecise language. The line “walked out of ‘The Dark Knight'” is now “walked away from ‘The Dark Knight.'”
Image from “The Dark Knight” courtesy of Warner Bros.