Taking what Batman Begins did to re-establish Batman in the world of cinema, The Dark Knight focuses on the world that surrounds Batman, and his place within it. Featuring Oscar-worthy performances, screenwriting and direction, it is a runaway bullet train of crime, corruption and insanity.
In other words, it’s a riveting cinematic achievement. Again, Christian Bale dons the mask of the bat, and even with the multitude of characters and storylines that inhabit this movie, he grounds the story and gives it weight. When the Batman is in control, Gotham seems definitive and forward moving; but when he loses that control, Gotham lacks all sense of hope. It’s a brilliant job by Bale as he brings the viewer behind the mask and carries them on his journey through Bruce Wayne’s private hell.
In his portrayal of the Joker, the only surprise in Heath Ledger’s performance is that it exceeds the hype. This would have been a career-making role for Ledger, one that would have placed him on par with the best actors in Hollywood. Instead, like James Dean in Exit to Eden, his portrayal of the Joker acts as a footnote to a short yet almost remarkable career.
Like Javier Bardem’s performance in No Country for Old Men, Ledger’s Joker is an evil force of nature. He is anarchy personified. The character has no morals, no rules and no reason for anything. He does it because he wants to, and destruction and death appear as a result. The Joker is an infection spreading throughout the heart of Gotham, threatening to choke off the blood supply. When the Joker is on the screen, the audience is riveted to their seats in the fear of what he might do next.
Aaron Eckhart is startlingly good in the role of Harvey Dent, a man focused on ridding Gotham of the influence of crime in the daylight, while Batman strikes at night. There are interesting parallels set up between Dent’s work within the system, and Batman’s work completely around the system. As the story progresses, it becomes painfully obvious that Batman’s success has its share of costs to the city as well. Dent eventually becomes the poster child for this situation, as his work and Batman’s are painfully shredded by the Joker’s mad impulses.
Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine bring their usual excellence to their respective support roles. Maggie Gyllenhall, replacing the wooden Katie Holmes as Rachel, brings one of the few bright lights to a dark Gotham.
The film is incredibly well shot, paced and scored. The script is surprisingly rich in depth, full of political and emotional intrigue. It succeeds in elevating the movie above the expectations of the audience.
For Harvey Dent, the picture tells the complete story of a man rising through society, who eventually falls due to his overwhelming faith in himself.
In simplest terms, The Dark Knight is an exhausting, intense and riveting crime story one minute, and a frightening tale of personal terror the next.
More than anything, however, it is a fascinating and entertaining two and a half hours in the movie theater.