I caught a screening of "The Dark Knight," at the Jordan's IMAX theatre last night. So while my story on the pitfalls of marketing a dead Heath Ledger appears in today's paper, I also whipped up a kinda off-the-cuff review, posted below. In short: Ledger lives up to all the hype, and should have an Oscar in the bag for this performance.
I was 10-years-old when Jack Nicholson took his PT Barnum routine to the legendary Joker character in Tim Burton’s “Batman.” I wore the toonish oversized t-shirt, had the pastel buttons on my Starter jacket and proudly went around saying things I didn’t really know the meaning behind, like “This town needs an enema.”
Nicholson was campy, a showman, a laughing (gas) sideshow that entertained and mocked and giggled and laughed as his perfectly-done makeup hid the alleged suffering and pain behind perhaps Batman’s greatest villain. He was comic drawn in Caesar Romero colors, a bright, vibrant adaptation not too far removed from the television show vision of the character. In explosions of purple, he was accessible to my 11-year-old brain. This boy needs an enema.
Now comes Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” six-months dead from a dance with scripts and having since generated more posthumous Oscar buzz than any other actor that accidentally clocked out in advance.
Wait until Nicholson gets a load of him.
Ledger is maniacal, evil, half-cocked and fully-baked. His presence nothing short of captivating, his motives downright sinister and his self-told backstory of mutilation ever-shifting. He limps, he growls, and he laughs it up along a path of remarkable destruction, a kill tally mounting with every well-placed smear of his legendary makeup-scarred visage. And every time he’s off the screen, you can’t wait until he roars back, shotgun ripped and eyes piercing. Sometimes he’s hunchbacked, others he’s straight as a disappearing pencil. And in pretty much every shot, he’s devastatingly menacing.
Of course, his legend here is magnified exponentially by the stiff and often awkward performances of the cast around him. Bale left much of his passion and persona in 2005’s almost-flawless “Batman Begins,” and Maggie Gyllenhaal may be the ugliest, pooch-pandering leading lady in Hollywood. At least Katie Holmes was easy on the baby-blues. When the Joker crashes a swank Bruce Wayne party midway through this 2-and-a-half hour crime romp and refers to Mags as “this beautiful woman,” you know the motherfucker is legitimately Bat-shit.
No one else really brings much to the table here, with the possible exception of Aaron Eckhardt’s DA Harvey Dent. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox blew his load in “Begins,” and even Michael Caine’s needed comic relief was sorely underused. The always gorgeous and because of his looks and nothing else, intriguing, Cillian Murphy, adds a head scratching cameo as the Scarecrow in the movie’s opening scenes, and Gary Oldman’s Chief/Commissioner Gordon tilt is standard fare.
All this really just adds up to one thing: Watching the Joker steal the show as easily as he does the mob’s police-stained loot. As overcooked as “The Dark Knight” may actually be, it’s a traditional summer movie blockbuster dinner augmented by a performance that, had Ledger been alive today, would have shot him into the upper echelon of Hollywood stardom. It’s easy to posthumously shower Ledger with accolades here, as we all love a Tragic Story straight out of the Hollywood Hills, but this shit is so legit, so terrifying, so entertaining and intriguing, the only sadness arrives upon learning that in answering Nicholson’s famous line, “Where does he get those wonderful toys,” we realize the answer may be Ledger’s personal medicine cabinet.
Did his addiction and or alleged abuse of prescription drugs help him play an affected, mentally unstable psychopath? Maybe, maybe not. But in the end, it proves that while there are no second acts in American life, there is room for absolute stardom in death.