Heath Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight" is a subtle, nuanced piece of acting so powerful it banishes all memories of the handsome Aussie behind it. The makeup seems to have liberated him: He's supple of body and expressive with only his eyes, and his voice has undulations of irony and mockery and psychopathology.
The performance is also the most interesting thing in the film, and when the Joker is absent, "The Dark Knight" loses most of its energy and becomes nothing but a pretty-boy face-off between Christian Bale (Batman) and Aaron Eckhart. The mistake is Eckhart as Harvey Dent, prosecutor and super villain in the making. It is a role that calls for more gift than Eckhart, in other circumstances an honest journeyman, possesses.
The movie begins with bangs, lots of them. A very violent bank job transpires, where a squad of clown-masked pros takes down what is quickly revealed to be a Mafia operation, overloaded with unreported cash. Where is Batman while all of this mayhem is being committed? Off somewhere brooding because nobody broods better than Christian Bale.
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Batman's lost heart, Rebecca Dawes, is perhaps too ironic for the Batman world; with those perpetually knowing eyes and that way of suggesting that she always gets it, she doesn't really fit.
The effects and stunts are first-rate, although for big bangs, the opening bank robbery is probably the most powerfully done. Though Batty and Laugher do go at it, the big fight is not nearly as mythic as it should have been, giving the movie an ending that feels more anti- than climactic.
-- Stephen Hunter (July 17, 2008)
Contains mayhem, menace and intense sequences of violence.