Warning! This post contains spoilers for The Dark Knight.
Much has been written about The Dark Knight– its massive haul at the box office, Heath Ledger’s final performance as the Joker, Christian Bale’s strange growly voice as Batman but one topic has gotten lost in the shuffle in recent Batman discussions. And that is Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent.
I saw the movie a few weeks ago and while Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is getting all the ink and the Oscar talk, I have to to say that Aaron Eckhart’s was the one that stayed with me. The Joker role, despite being the most colorful character in the Rogue’s Gallery, really can be played by just opening mouth and inserting scenery. But the journey Harvey Dent has to take in The Dark Knight required an ability to dance on a very thin line and I thought Eckhart did that superbly.
We’ve seen Harvey Dent twice before in Batman movies and while Billy Dee Williams was never seen again after Batman, Tommy Lee Jones’s portrayal in Batman Forever was hardly what I would call subtle. Jones seemed to be infected by Jim Carrey’s antic mugging as the Riddler so he completely skimmed over the tragic aspect of Harvey Dent’s character that infuses Eckhart’s perfomance.
Dent is a good man, Gotham’s shining white knight who symbolizes that the city can save itself and does not need a winged vigilante to do so. As Eckhart plays him, Dent is a charismatic man who is strong in his convictions about right and wrong. In the wrong hands, Dent could seem like a cardboard character, all gleaming white teeth, fluffy blond hair and self-righteousness. But Eckhart shaded his portrayal so Dent seemed realistic and flawed. He also let hints of darkness peak through so his final transformation to Two Face was both believable and heart-breaking.
As for the rest of the film, I didn’t quite love it as much as I did Batman Begins. Being a Batman geek and Christian Bale fan since I was a teenager, when I heard that Bale was being cast as Batman for Batman Begins, I thought it must be my birthday. I couldn’t believe that Warner Brothers had cast the character in such a personally satisfying way.
And outside of the small flaw of Katie Holmes’s casting, I thought Batman Begins was magnificent. The cast was chock full of fantastic actors, all of whom were fully engaged and not slumming like you normally find in superhero movies. The story was compelling and instead of being punted aside in favor of colorful villians like in previous movies, Bruce Wayne was front and center. Bale was wonderful at showing how split Bruce was between his identities and how not only was Batman his alter ego but so was the public face of Bruce Wayne. He crafted the public Bruce to appear as an arrogant, spoiled playboy while the private Bruce toiled away in the dark, crafting Batman’s weapons and appearance.
But unfortunately in The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne got punted to the side again in favor of the Joker’s theatrics and other character’s issues. Where Bruce was the emotional heart of Batman Begins, it felt like Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon and Eckhart’s Dent split that load this time. While I can’t complain since both Oldman and Eckhart were excellent, I missed the focus on Bruce.
Add a leather mask and you have Catwoman.
And while Maggie Gyllenhaal was a vast improvement on Katie Holmes, her role as Rachel Dawes was so small and her scenes with Bale so minimal that I wish they had saved Gyllenhaal for the Selena Kyle/ Catwoman role that I’m sure will eventually need to be filled. Although Rachel and Bruce’s story was covered in Batman Begins, the switch of actresses left me feeling a lack of strong connection between Gyllenhaal and Bale despite the fact that they did have chemistry. It felt like a wasted opportunity.
Even though I liked Batman Begins better, The Dark Knight is still a really dynamic movie. Christopher Nolan could have gotten away with making a plotless, CGI-heavy film packed with explosions every five minutes and probably laughed all the way to the bank. But he didn’t. He actually tried to make a Batman movie about something. As a result, it’s a heavy movie but you leave the theater thinking about it. I am definitely interested to see where Nolan takes the story from here and what villains are picked for the 3rd film. Until then, I’ll just have to stare at my Batman bubble gum machine and wonder.