Characters define their films. Plot can be thrown away if the audience does not feel some kind of bond with lives that inhabit a story. Be it love, hate or something in between, an emotional connection with character is the key to great film making. The Dark Knight combines stellar writing with an equally able cast to create a rich film filled with deeply layered characters.
Batman - Christian Bale: Bale's portrayal of The Batman in Batman Begins was spot on. He was brooding, intelligent and introspective. He made it believable that a real man could find reason to begin a personal crusade against crime, striking fear into the hearts of his enemies by dressing as a giant bat. In The Dark Knight, Bale builds on his performance.
Through his admiration of Aaron Eckhart's character, Harvey Dent, and his relationship with love interest Rachael Dawes, played my Maggie Gyllenhaal, we see how deeply he yearns to become a normal man and give up his role as the caped crusader. We also see, however, how the Batman begins to dominate his psyche. Right or wrong, he truly believes that Gotham city needs his "alter" ego regardless of the consequences he must face. The idea that he is the Batman more than he is Bruce Wayne has been explored thoroughly throughout the comic book world. Bale, once again, makes us believe that a real man could become such a person.
Alfred Pennyworth - Sir Michael Caine: Always a class act, Caine reprises his role as Bruce Wayne's butler and confidant. Though only working with very few lines, Caine stands out in the film as the voice of reason - the voice that Bruce Wayne and the Batman turn to at their lowest.
Lucius Fox - Morgan Freeman: Just like Caine, Freeman is a fantastic actor in a lighter role. Fox serves mainly as a plot device by developing the Batman's crime fighting technology. He does, however, become a pivotal part of tone of the film's major themes, though this does not occur until the final act.
Even with limited screen time, Caine and Freeman provide us with yet another example of their stellar talents.
Rachael Dawes - Maggie Gyllenhaal: Katie Holmes' Dawes from Batman Begins was little more than the damsel in distress as playing the part of a hard-nosed DA didn't suit her. Gyllenhaal provides a more convincing portrayal of a woman that has managed to ascend to the upper ranks of her field. Though her main purpose in the film is simple, she is a catalyst for the emotional changes within the Batman and Harvey Dent, she plays it well. She is given just as much as Holmes was and does a far better job with it.
Aaron Eckhart - Harvey Dent: With all the buzz surrounding Heath Ledger's performance, which will get its own post, Eckhart's fantastic portrayal of both a hero and a villain should not be overlooked. As the film takes great lengths to point out, Harvey Dent is the white knight to the Batman's dark knight. Dent suffers through the onslaught of media criticism, attempts on his life and personal loss, and it is his reaction to these events that becomes the main theme of the film: how good men can rise and fall when confronted by true evil.
We have seen Eckhart play the silver tongue before, which does with as much moxie as anyone; this time he plays other side as well. He is a tragic figure, and his portrayal of a fall from grace should not be overlooked.
Lt./Commissioner Jim Gordon - Gary Oldman: Along with Alfred and and Lucius Fox Gordon is another supporting player brought to life by a fantastic thespian. With a larger role than in the first film, Gordon collaborates with the Batman to rid Gotham of crime and corruption. His voice is not always that of the law, as Dent's is. It is the voice of what is right. Gordon is a decent man in an indecent world. Oldman provides us with the film's swan song, and his tragic soliloquy approached that of cinematic greatness.
While by no means an ensemble cast, the incredibly talented actors of The Dark Knight are interwoven by a story that allows each to support the others. They have created a stunning emotional drama.