‘Right One’ has more bite than ‘Twilight’

Posted Dec. 04, 2008, at 5:19 p.m.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, directed by Tomas Alfredson, written by John Ajvide Linkqvist, 116 minutes, rated R. In Swedish with English subtitles.

The comparisons between Catherine Hardwicke’s “Twilight” and Tom Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” come so swiftly and easily, it would be an oversight not to compare them for a specific reason — one movie courts an American sensibility driven by box-office greed, the other a foreign sensibility driven by artistry and the quest to tell a story well.

Guess which is the better movie?

Obviously, the weak link is “Twilight,” an overheated potboiler about the potentially undeadly physical attraction that ignites between two hot-and-bothered teens, one a male vampire fresh from an Abercrombie & Fitch ad, the other a pouty mortal female trying to stuff down one mother of a hormonal rampage.

At its core, “Twilight” uses its vampire angle to promote abstinence, an interesting twist for tweens that’s unfortunately suffocated by too much action-movie clutter, purple romantic pining and blue dialogue. In other words, the movie is filled with the very rainbow of qualities that make for the blockbuster “Twilight” has be-come. Abstinence never will sell a movie, but kisses, randy teens and explosions do, so that’s what audiences got upon the movie’s release.

“Let the Right One In,” on the other hand, is a quiet, more intense vampire thriller from Sweden that features a similar storyline, though one which goes deeper and darker than “Twilight” ever could imagine. It’s the story of a pale, bullied 12-year-old boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), and how his budding relationship with a pale, 12-year-old girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is a vampire, leads each to a dangerous precipice that must not be crossed.

Unlike Bella from “Twilight,” who would happily die for her stud vamp if it meant spending an eternity marveling at his fright wig and killer cheekbones, Oskar has more substance. He comes to love Eli, but in spite of suffering a cruel life that also includes divorced parents (just as it does with Bella), he doesn’t want to end it.

From the start, there is a wariness between them that draws you into the movie, which is set in the snowy chills of winter (Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stark cinematography is one of the movie’s chief pleasures). Each child is lonely. Each needs a friend. Given that Oskar is on the cusp of adolescence — and all that entails — his conflicted feelings for Eli are charged with a sexual undercurrent he doesn’t fully understand.

But she does. Eli might exist within a 12-year-old’s body, but she’s been 12 for some time. And so, as they grow closer, she becomes his protector, feasting gruesomely when she must (the poor thing never remembers to wipe her bloody mouth), but remaining as true to Oskar as he is to her.

Unlike “Twilight,” suspense and spareness are the motivators here, not violence. That isn’t to suggest that the movie isn’t violent — it is, sometimes wickedly so — but those moments are few. Alfredson understands the power of subtlety. He knows precisely the right moment to shock, but more important, he does so in ways that you’ve never seen on a movie screen. That he does so in a genre nearly as old as the movies themselves lifts “Let the Right One In” into the coveted realm of one of the year’s more memorable films.

Grade: A-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

THE DARK KNIGHT, directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, 152 minutes, rated PG-13.

So here it is: the best superhero movie ever. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” deftly accomplishes all one could hope for, and then it surpasses it until you realize you’re watching something special — a movie that’s the very best of its kind.

Back in the bat suit is Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, the troubled billionaire with a secret life known to only a few — his childhood friend and former flame (whom he still loves), Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal); his protective butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); and the technological mastermind behind Batman’s suit and his many gadgets, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

As the movie unfolds, Wayne must come to rely on every one of them when his new adversary reveals himself. He’s the Joker, a man for whom chaos and evil are more satisfying than such trivialities as wealth and power, and he’s played by Heath Ledger with such skill and seductive force that all of those Oscar rumors likely will prove true — and not out of pity for the man’s untimely death.

If Ledger does receive a nomination (I think he will), it will be because he earned it. His performance is slippery, unhinged and transfixing, with echoes of a young Brando in how loose he is onscreen, how easily he disappears into his role, and how for him, evil has the taste of something sweet. Look beyond his cracked clown makeup, his red scar of a mouth and that crazed whinny of a laugh of his, and you’ll find the corrupt heart of a terrorist. As with so many terrorists, it’s the Joker’s intention to spread that corruption as far and as wide as he can by influencing those who matter.

While he does so in Gotham in ways that won’t be revealed here, it is safe to say that “The Dark Knight” consumes itself with the idea of how corrupt some are willing to become in an effort to fight corruption itself. It’s that undercurrent of irony that runs through the movie, lifting it, and it emerges as one of Nolan’s major themes: Once you go to that dark side of yourself, once you give in to it and embrace it and realize that you’re capable of it, regardless of how good your intentions, what’s to become of you when you’re faced with the reality of what you have become in the process? Who are you then?

Throughout “The Dark Knight,” the destruction the Joker unleashes is twisted and real, with the consequences of his evil not conveniently brushed away when, say, a major character’s life is threatened, but dealt with in ways that are meant to incite shock in the face of madness. This is one of the chief reasons the film is a great superhero movie — it isn’t a cartoon willing to overlook the world in which we live now. Instead, it accepts it for what it is, and it follows through with the deadly repercussions.

Armed with some outrageous action scenes and excellent supporting turns by Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s new district attorney, Harvey Dent, and Gary Oldman as the soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon, “The Dark Knight” is Christopher Nolan’s best film, it is one of year’s best films, and it’s the best superhero movie, period.

Grade: A

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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