Ledger’s Joker makes ‘Dark Knight’ shine

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Heath Ledger stars as The Joker in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action drama, “The Dark Knight.”
Published On:
Monday, July 21, 2008
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Believe the hype.

Some time ago when I first heard that writer and director Christopher Nolan handpicked Heath Ledger to play The Joker in the Batman sequel, “The Dark Knight”, I thought, “What? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Now, Ledger demonstrated his talent for immersing himself into characters from his shattering supporting role as Billy Bob Thorton’s neglected son in “Monster’s Ball” only to be topped by his heart-breaking Oscar-nominated performance in “Brokeback Mountain.”

But, Heath Ledger as The Joker, Batman’s most infamous nemesis?

Huh?

No way.

I truly thought Nolan missed the casting mark.

Well, I was 100 percent wrong and yes, believe the hype and everything else you’ve heard.

Heath Ledger’s performance as the Batman saga’s most nefarious villain elevates Nolan’s visually stunning picture to the best cat-and-mouse, battle-of-wits comic book masterpiece ever presented on the big screen.

I was stunned.

Believe the hype.

Nolan gives us a sequel in the truest sense as the film picks up in city of Gotham one year after “Batman Begins” ended.

No origin or background story is needed here as the picture grabs the audience by the throat immediately.

We are first treated to front row seats to an elaborate bank heist, and the film doesn’t let us go until two hours and 30 minutes later when the end credits roll onto the screen.

In between, police Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) enthusiastically works with Batman (Christian Bale) to clean up the streets of Gotham.

And although the vigilante caped crusader’s methods of fighting crime are considered questionable by some, Batman’s methods prove effective and praised by most.

But as The Joker rises to power, people are dying and billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne wonders how his actions as Batman brought even worse villains to the city.

Fortunately, superstar district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is on the case to pick up the slack and Gotham welcomes his no-fear, squeaky-clean image.

Throw in a love triangle with assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Dent’s own personal transformation and the tension — but also respect — between Wayne and Dent, and Nolan adds another dramatic layer to his symphony on the big screen.

As one would turn the pages of a comic book, Nolan’s no-nonsense style whips the audience at 90 miles per hour — scene by scene — as we are mesmerized by the images onscreen.

The powerhouse cast doesn’t disappoint as Bale, Eckhart, Gyllenhaal and Oldman are terrific and Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are solid as Batman’s trusty support system in Alfred the butler and Lucius Fox.

Eric Roberts and Chin Han both provide a nice criminal element as mob boss Salvatore Maroni and moneyman Lau.

But, “The Dark Knight” is truly Ledger’s movie.

His transformation into The Joker is no less than staggering and his vision makes Jack Nicholson’s 1989 Joker portrayal in “Batman” pale in comparison.

Believe the hype.

Ledger’s Joker is campy in parts, but at the character’s core he is dangerous, vicious, psychotic and emphatic in bringing the Gotham one thing: chaos.

And Bruce Wayne comes to realize this when Alfred explains that “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Ledger certainly burns up the screen and his tragic, untimely and sudden death in January should be taken out of the equation here.

Ledger left us with one of the greatest performances of a villain in modern cinematic history.

There was Norman Bates, Nurse Ratched, Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and now, The Joker.

Ledger’s performance is that good and so is Nolan’s film.

Believe the hype.

♆♆♆♆♆

Reach the reporter at jeffrey.mitchell@asu.edu.