"The true strength of the final complete performance of Ledger's life lies in his much longer monologues. You see, you may think he's playing The Joker, but he's actually playing the Devil. He weaves truth and lies; every scheme is designed to wreak havoc on multiple layers, including ones that aren't always evident at first; he can also make you feel downright sorry for the guy as he weaves one of many autobiographies spins during the course of the film. He's a master manipulator, and wherever he is, he's the smartest guy in the room. Yes, he's insane, but he's going to let you think he's think that crazy equals reckless and unintelligent. He is neither.
Of course, a lot of what I've just discussed is as much a testament to the writers of The Dark Knight as Ledger. What Ledger adds to the mix is something he's clearly picked up from this version of The Joker. Just as Batman's archenemy has no moral code or fiber, Ledger has completely ripped to shreds everything he and we have come to accept and settle for when it comes to a portrait of evil. He has dismantled the status quo of how bad guys have been played in the past, and delivered a big whopping "Fuck You" to every overacting, mustache-twirling ham who thinks that simply slicking back your hair and wearing dark clothes is the way villainy should be played in film. Watching Ledger move like a rabid animal or subtly flick his tongue like an angry serpent is to behold something you have never seen on screen before and probably will not again in your lifetime. Joker saga is more than just the greatest superhero movie ever made (and that it certainly is), but it's the year's finest crime drama, greatest character study, and greatest acting performance.
Not to oversell Ledger's work (too late!), but seeing his version of The Joker actually made me mad at Jack Nicholson for not taking it far enough. Nicholson made a career out of being edgy and no-holds barred, but he and Tim Burton decided to make The Joker a clown instead of a true maniac. I'm sure it was not Nolan's intention, but his film made me dislike a film I once enjoyed because I now see that Nicholson's Joker is a pussy. I still think Michael Keaton was a decent Batman, but Christian Bale has such great pent-up (and sometimes not so pent-up) rage in him this time that no one can hold a candle to the dimensions he's adding to either side of his identity. Bruce Wayne gets as much time on screen as his costumed alter ego (maybe even more).Maggie Gyllenhaal steps into Katie Holmes' role from the first film as Rachel Dawes, Wayne's childhood sweetheart and one of the few civilians who knows about his secret life. I guess I understand why the Batman films need a strong female presence, but the truth is, I've never liked any of the women in any of the Batman movies. Gyllenhaal's Rachel comes the closest to having a purpose other than slinking things up a bit and providing evidence that our hero is more than a shallow playboy (that said, Dark Knight's running joke about Bruce hooking up with the Russian Ballet is priceless). Rachel is torn between her true love and her new love, the "White Knight" district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, in easily the finest performance he has ever given). The film's recurring theme of man's duality obviously comes to a head when Dent's face is severely burned thanks to a booby trap set by The Joker, but it's also driven home with The Joker himself, who makes the interesting observation that he and Batman are just different kinds of crazy. And Batman doesn't argue".