Aaron Eckhart could have been Batman.
He has the square jaw and intensity of Batman, the charisma, charm, slick confident attitude and good looks to be Bruce Wayne.
It seems fitting that an actor who could have easily played Batman / Bruce Wayne ends up becoming Two-Face.
Two-Face has been handled differently in the comics according to the values of the day, and who was writing the character. In his original inception, he is a knock off of a Dick Tracy era “ugly gangster with a gimmick”.
The split in half suit of contrasting colours, double sided coin and split personality were a gimmick that made Two-Face distinguishable from other comic book or pulp villains. The classical look of Two-Face speaks to the era of guys in suits, Al Capone era bad guys, mob enforcers and other similar crooks and made men.
The modern day version of Two-Face plays up the similarities and differences between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, and gives more emphasis to the psychology of Two-Face rather than just the gimmick clothing, coin and gangster schtick.
In Batman: The Animated Series the early years of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent show the two of them as friends and contemporaries. Both men are passionate about law and order, and genuinely care about proactively fixing the corrupt city they live in.
The relationship of Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent was retroactively established in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Comics are a strange medium where time is fluid, where events can change seemingly without warning. The next retcon (retro-active continuity) is only just around the corner for most modern characters.
When the friendship of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne was established in the Batman comics, set during his earlier years in Millers Year One, it retroactively meant that every story before that was now affected by this new continuity. It meant the relationship had always existed, even if stories in the previous decades had failed to mention it.
That Harvey Dent / Bruce Wayne relationship endures in most modern interpretations of Batman. Nolan’s The Dark Knight takes it cues from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween.
The movie version of Two-Face is played by Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s White Knight, a bastion of goodness, moral virtue and incorruptibility. He is a day time version of Batman, who needs no mask and operates within the law, he exists as a bold contrast to Batman’s Dark Knight.
In some ways The Dark Knight is more the story of Harvey Dent than Bruce Wayne. The entire film sets up Harvey Dents’s inevitable fall from grace, he is used as the Joker’s example (one of his many pawns) of how even the best of us can become rotten inside, if we were not already rotten to begin with.
Even the best of us can turn our backs on our own highest values and dreams, and instead be overcome with anger, grief, depression, vindictiveness, the need for revenge or to take out our frustrations on the world, rather than owning our behavior, and accepting the roles and responsibilities as authors of our own lives.
Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face comes about not because of the scars on his face, the damage to his body, but because of the unbalancing of his fragile mind. He becomes Two-Face because of his psychological scars, although the movie does hint that he has a hidden dark side.
A throwaway line earlier in the film has Gary Oldman’s Gordon refer to Dent as “Harvey Two-Face”, a name he had been called by former associates. Whether this meant he was genuinely bad, or just unpopular because did his job so well, putting criminals behind bars (many of whom who had were in league with corrupt cops) is unknown. The Joker does not make Two-Face so much as give Harvey Dent a small push at a critical point in his downfall.
Had the Joker hospital room conversation with Harvey taken place earlier in the film, Harvey might have laughed it off. Instead in his fragile, weakened and traumatised state, he subconscious is laid bare, he openly lets the Joker’s foul ideas into his own mind, and accepts them as his own.
Two-Face is one of the most popular villains in the long running various Batman comic books. While it was good to see him used in the Nolan Batman Trilogy, we only see Harvey Dent become Two-Face towards the last third of the film. He could have been the main villain in a Batman film, rather than a side-note.
A one time gimmick character who appears only sporadically through Batman’s first thirty years became a staple in the Bat mythos of the seventies and eighties and has been used regularly since then up until the modern day era. The character has enough complexity and depth to him that there are more stories yet to be told with Harvey Two-Face.
Considering the amount of characters, plots and sub-plots that must be given screen time in the Dark Knight, Aaron Eckhart does an excellent job with the Two-Face character.
I really enjoyed Aaron Eckhart’s performance, and would have liked to have seen more of him as Two-Face in the Dark Knight film, before his untimely demise at the hands of Batman. Despite his strict “no-killing” policy Batman manages to cause the death (directly or indirectly) of a major villain in each of Nolan’s three Batman films.
Whoops, so much for those values and codes of behavior Batman holds so dear.
One weaker element of The Dark Knight is Dent’s relationship with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) which seems under baked at best. Poor Rachel seems to exist in a man’s world, where despite being a strong, feisty independent woman, her role still revolves around the men in this fictional world.
In Batman Begins Rachel wants to be with Bruce, but that does not work out as Bruce will not give up being Batman. In The Dark Knight, she is with Harvey Dent, but then he dies. It is assumed that between the films she reverts to the strong independent solo women she supposedly is, but any time we see Rachel on screen – in either film – we only see her reacting to events caused by the male leads, or being saved by Batman who is also secretly Bruce Wayne, or being held hostage by a villain. She fails to exist as her own character separate from the male heroes and villains.
It is no secret that women come off second best in Christopher Nolan’s films. They are there to serve the plot, and the male leads. Nolan is no more guilty than the majority of other mainstream films in a patriarchal society that is content to churn out multiple male superhero leads every year, despite roughly half their potential audience being women.
Rather than being second-stringers, it is long past the time when we should be seeing female leads in superhero films, there are no shortage of characters to choose from.
But getting back on topic, I really liked Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face, he was a welcome addition to the Nolan Batman franchise, and his face looks truly horrific in the film. I was surprised how graphic and detailed his realistically damaged face looked on screen.
I winced when I first saw it, but the horror fan in me was proud of the special effects and attention to detail shown in Dent’s exposed eye socket, jaw, teeth and muscle and connective tissue. In The Dark Knight Eckhart shows us some of his best talents.
He shows us his charming best qualities – the slick charismatic and genuine guy we saw in Thank You for Smoking, the leadership qualities he displayed in Battle: Los Angeles and the softer, fragile tender side he displayed in Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman.
I think Aaron Eckhart is a wonderful actor, and I have enjoyed following his career and hope to see him in more films that really utilise his talents and have him grow as an actor and a human being.
Have you read these other Nolan Bat Trilogy posts?