This was written a little while ago... but hey... the film is still on circuit...
The rumours began during the filming of The Dark Knight. One of the scenes in the film is where the Joker gatecrashes Bruce Wayne’s penthouse suite during a party. Sir Michael Caine, who had never met Heath Ledger before, had his first encounter with the 28-year-old on set during that scene. Caine got such a fright that he forgot his lines.
“A signature bad guy who will seriously scare your pants off,” was Caine’s tip-off to reporters ahead of the trailers being released. And so the hype began to build.
Three months earlier, the announcement that Ledger was chosen as the Joker over fellow candidates Robin Williams and Adrien Brody was greeted as (pardon the pun) a joke. But now, it seemed, he was going to have the last laugh (okay, enough now).
Then Ledger was reported dead. Immediate speculation ensued about his intense preparation for the role of the Joker. He lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character’s psychology, posture and voice (the last he found the most difficult to do). He started a diary, in which he wrote the Joker’s thoughts and feelings to guide himself during his performance.
Perhaps the most cryptic information surrounding Ledger’s death came from Jack Nicholson, who played a more camp and satirical Joker in the 1989 Batman.
“Well,” Nicholson told reporters in London, “I warned him.” The death was, in the end, attributed to an accidental overdose from drugs commonly prescribed in the United States for insomnia, anxiety, depression, pain and cold symptoms.
Of course, everyone is going to say Ledger was superb in the role, it’s Oscar-winning stuff, etcetera. It’s the polite thing to say about a guy who recently died. Perhaps the hype is attributed to the mystery of the character. There are no premiere interviews, no inside info from the actor himself, which makes the art of it so much more poignant and compelling. In the film itself, there is little background about the Joker, which dehumanises the character and makes him that much more frightening.
Truly, if there was no Joker, there would be no film. The character is constructed even when Ledger is not on screen, and therefore it’s easy to miss the excellent performances from everyone else: Christian Bale is smooth and articulate as playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne and the imposing Batman; Maggie Gyllenhaal brings more depth and believability to the character of Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes did in the previous Begins film; and Aaron Eckhart is brilliant (although his character borderline boring) as Gotham’s “white knight” attorney, Harvey Dent.
Dent garners the trust and belief of Batman and Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) as the city’s saviour, but his high-profile successes soon make him a target, putting him squarely in the Joker’s sights.
This is a serious cast for a serious film. Not since The Godfather have audiences been subject to social commentary and such weighty, thought-provoking themes as in this film.
The Dark Knight engages in intricate debate on issues such as hopelessness and the moral compass of society, and director Christopher Nolan explores it all. Brilliantly.
Some think it’s too long. Don’t listen to them. The Dark Knight is intriguing, engaging and elaborate.
And yup, the rumours are true. Ledger was exhilarating. He had delivered the most spectacular and chilling curtain bow in Hollywood history.
Rating (out of 5 stars): *****