Friday, July 18, 2008
The Dark Knight: Heath Ledger
It is difficult for me to write an unbiased, honest review of Chris Nolan’s newest installment in the Batman series. Why so difficult? I have loved Batman for as long as I can remember, or least since the first time I saw Batman Returns, which remains, to this day, my favorite of the enterprise. I suppose I love Batman for many of the same reasons other people do—he is, by definition, not a superhero, but rather a man with deep emotional wounds that drive him to seek revenge. However, what elevates Batman to the level of hero (or anti-hero, depending on how you look at it), is that he finds his taste for revenge to be insatiable.
So, I won't write a review. Instead, I will write an ode.
Batman Begins was an admirable first foray into the world of Gotham. I personally found it clunky and boring, mainly because of all the high-tech bullshit and unnecessary back-story. Also, Katie Holmes’ face makes my skin crawl and her total and complete worthlessness as an actor doesn’t exactly excite me, either. But when I heard, over a year ago, that Nolan would take on Batman again and that Heath Ledger would step into the role of the Joker, I was intrigued. Heath Ledger?
At that point, Heath had yet to knock our socks off with his performance in Brokeback Mountain. To me, he was a marginally-talented, gorgeous Australian with excellent taste in women. But Brokeback Mountain changed all that—his heart-wrenching portrait of Ennis Del Mar confirmed that Heath was playing for the big leagues. But Heath’s personal life seemed to suffer when his professional one flourished: his fairytale romance with Michelle Williams ended—(he once said in an interview on the conception of his daughter, Matilda Rose, “Michelle and I were so in love . . . we just did what our bodies told us to do"), Batman wrapped, and Heath was seen skulking about New York City, canoodling with models, and generally looking like hell.
And then, we all know what happened next.
Heath Ledger's performance in this film surpasses all the hype and praise it has earned thusfar in the press. It has been years since I've seen any actor commit to a role so purely and with such energy that it takes the breath away from the audience, whose reaction is littered with bouts of nervous laughter. Ledger's Joker is absolutely terrifying, a complete and natural maniac. He is not the product of a chemical bath, a fire, or a maiming. He is, in a way, the shadow against all of Gotham, the invisible man: the criminally insane. Those who cease to exist in this society because they do not fit into our parameters of black and white. As Manola Dargis so aptly put it in her review, "He isn’t fighting for anything or anyone. He isn’t a terrorist, just terrifying."
See this film for Ledger's performance, if for no other reason. It is fascinating in its cruelty and its romance, perhaps the best combination we can ask for in the ultimate villain. When the Joker escapes his holding cell (in an oh so creative way) and drives away into Gotham's night, head out the window, all smiles, hair blowing in the breeze, there is something so visually stunning about Ledger and Nolan's camerawork here that I felt as though I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life.
I apologize if you've read this post in order to get a sense of the entire film. I realize that I have failed in that capacity. Of course you should see it, of course it's exciting, of course: it's Batman. It's *the* action film of the summer. You don't want to miss out on that. Yes, there's poor dialogue, completely unrealistic scenes, and bad acting.
Critics and fans alike have claimed that making this movie killed Heath Ledger. I disagree. His performance is an example of the ultimate creation, the true definition of acting, and I can't think of a better tribute or legacy to leave than an actor at his best, doing what he loves, and doing it brilliantly.
Retraction, 8/7/08: The only other performance that equals Ledger's this year is of course Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Please see my review for more details.
Also: I highly recommend seeing The Dark Knight via IMAX.