Top Ten: The Dark Knight Trilogy Performances

I recently reviewed The Dark Knight Trilogy but didn’t make much mention of the acting performances. Not because they weren’t worth mentioning but because they were so good that I could have gone on and on for the entire post about them. There’s not one mis-step throughout the entire three films, every part is played well – although for me Katie Holmes is merely ‘good’ as Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins rather than outstanding as the majority of the main cast are.

Spoilers abound so please don’t go too much further if you haven’t seen all three films.

10. Matthew Modine

This was the toughest place on the list to fill, every other name slotted in easily but for the last place there was fierce competition. It could have been Aaron Eckhart for his great portrayal of the idealistic Harvey Dent turned into psychotic killer Two-Face or Liam Neeson’s R’as Al Ghul desperate to destroy Gotham City in order to restore harmony to the world. I’ve gone for Modine though as I thought his performance as Assistant Commissioner Foley who transforms during the course of The Dark Knight Rises from calculating political animal to coward hiding behind his wife and then to fallen hero. He is an understated joy of the film but like much of Modine’s career this seems to have been overlooked by many.

9. Cillian Murphy

Appearing in all three films Cillian Murphy’s Dr Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow isn’t the most terrifying villain in the superhero universe. Murphy is a charismatic actor and breathes life into a character who is little more than a mook for the mob with a penchant for playing dirty with pepper spray.  While criminally underused in The Dark Knight, appearing briefly in a shabby drug deal, his cameo as a twisted judge in The Dark Knight Rises is a highlight.

8. Tom Hardy

Bane in The Dark Knight Rises threatens Gotham City with total destruction, holding it hostage with a nuclear weapon. His face is hidden with a mask – and what a pity because it’s such a pretty face. Despite that Hardy manages to give his character some depth and even makes us feel a modicum of sympathy for him when he is deserted by Talia al-Ghul. Shame about the voice though.

7. Morgan Freeman

As Lucius Fox, trusted Wayne Enterprises employee and Batman’s armourer, Freeman brings gravitas and humour to his role. He never explicitly links his employer to the masked hero saving their city, but it’s no secret either and he names the multi-purpose vehicle of the final film The Bat. Freeman is smooth, knowing, intelligent, has a sense of mischievous fun which counter-balances Bale’s seriousness. Given that Fox is, to all intents and purposes, the brains of Batman’s operation I can’t imagine many actors who could fill the role so well.

6. Christian Bale

It seems a bit strange that I haven’t judged the actor who plays Batman as giving the best performance in a series of Batman films or even put him in the top half of my top ten. It’s in no way a criticism of Bale, it’s a reflection on the high standard of the performances throughout the series. Bale is great as Bruce Wayne transforms over the years from a conflicted young man wanting to kill his parents’ assassin to a heartbroken wreck hiding away from the world following the death of Rachel. He also always convinces as the square-jawed, masked superhero determined to protect his city. A strong, career-defining performance.

5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

John Blake is a great character, the idealistic policeman who offers a future for the protection of Gotham once Bruce Wayne has died (or gone to Italy, whichever ending you prefer). Gordon-Levitt is one of the best young actors working at the moment and Christopher Nolan always gets the best out of him. His brave optimistic everyman offers hope for Gotham. It also offers hope for a new franchise which could be slightly less dark and infinitely more optimistic than that grumpy old Christian Bale could ever give us.

4. Gary Oldman

It’s a tough call when Gary Oldman doesn’t top the list of best performances in any film. His hang-dog Jim Gordon is a highlight of the series, from his youthful appearance as the beat cop comforting the recently bereaved Bruce, to his aging guilt-ridden Commissioner.  Oldman always delivers an absolutely magnificent performance.

3. Anne Hathaway

The only female performance on the list, Anne Hathaway deservedly takes this podium position. As Selina Kyle, cat burglar (not Catwoman) Hathaway is magnificent – she’s strong, sexy and more than holds her own both in the action sequences and in quick-fire verbal exchanges. Her moral ambiguity is an attractive contrast to Bruce Wayne’s sureness but the pain in her eyes when she realises Batman’s true identity after betraying him to Bane is powerful. With this and an already well-lauded performance as Fantine in Les Miserables, 2012 has undoubtedly been Anne Hathaway’s year.

2. Michael Caine

If Christian Bale offers the brawn of the Dark Knight films and Morgan Freeman the brains, then Michael Caine is without a doubt the heart. Trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth has always supported Bruce Wayne in his endeavours but never has he touched our hearts quite so much as in this trilogy. Caine is the father figure that Bruce has been looking for since his own father died but always seems to be pushing him away. He would rather leave Gotham City than watch Bruce sacrifice himself to safe the city – his choking speech where he tells Bruce that he has buried too many members of the Wayne family will always bring a lump to my throat.

1. Heath Ledger

Young, talented and charismatic, Heath Ledger’s death was a tragic loss to the world of cinema. He only appeared in 19 films – and one of those was as an extra but his potential was limitless. His portrayal of The Joker was as far removed from any other performance of the character I’ve seen. This wasn’t a cackling, laughing clown cracking jokes. His nervous ticks, lip smacks and eye twitches are all wonderfully expressive and a performance that stands head and shoulders above every other in the entire series.

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