Now that I've sat in a movie theater and watched the entire Dark Knight trilogy end to end it has become clear who gives the lynchpin performance of the whole series: Michael Caine as Alfred.
Bale is terrific throughout, to be sure, but he is too tortured and dour to engender too much of our sympathies. Or at least he would be without Caine by his side to add some humanity and a touch of levity to all of Bruce Wayne's scenes, not to mention make this whole deranged Batman scheme seem reasonable.
And now, in the final chapter of the story, Caine blindsides us with scenes of unexpected emotional resonance. Scenes with power built up since the first movie. It reminded me of - and get ready for a strange comparison - of the relationship between between Damon and Affleck in Good Will Hunting, the surrogate family member encouraging the brilliant prodigy to let go of their personal demons and live their life. It is fitting that when it comes time for the final grace notes to the series that they belong to Alfred.
So three cheers for Caine, and for Nolan too, for recognizing the heart and soul of the story in a character often used as a tuxedoed prop.