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Batman Wins Again, but Who Gives the Film's 2nd Best Performance?

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These Monday box-office reports seem to be playing the same news on a continuous loop. Once again, The Dark Knight kills the competition. In its third week, Batman squeaked past the mucho-hyped debut of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor to win the No. One spot. It's $42.5 million for the Mummy, $43.8 million for the Bat. Of course, Tomb should be entombed by next week when word of mouth kicks in about how tired and stupid the third Mummy flick is. The Dark Knight, now nearing $400 million at the ticket windows will still be raking it in. As it should. The triumph of the summer's best live-action movie brings up a crucial acting question that needs the asking:

After Heath Ledger, who has already achieved film immortality as the Joker, who gives the best performance in The Dark Knight?

My answer, with all due to respect to the Batman/Bruce Wayne of Christian Bale, is Aaron Eckhart. His portrayal of the heroic district attorney Harvey Dent sticks with you long after you leave the theater. Eckhart earns major props for scarily and movingly portraying the DA's transformation into the dreaded Harvey Two-Face. It's Harvey who tells the Caped Crusader, "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain." In the hospital scene, with the Joker in nurse drag at Harvey's bed, we watch a good man being driven to the dark side. Ledger provides the scene's flash, but it's Eckhart who grounds it in human feeling. What we're watching is Harvey's humanity being erased. And we see it all in Eckhart's face. It's a great performance, up there with Eckhart's best screen work in In the Company of Men, Thank You for Smoking, the upcoming Towelhead and a 2005 film Eckhart did with Helena Bonham Carter called Conversations with Other Women. Few saw it, so get busy.

And get busy arguing with me over what you think is Eckhart's best work and who gives the 2nd best performance in The Dark Knight.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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