I'm going to try to review a movie without discussing the plot much. Last night we trudged out to the theater at midnight for the first screening of the new Batman flick The Dark Knight. I went in with high expectations given the stellar cast, but a bit nervous about Heath Ledger in his role as the Joker. Heath's acting has always been a mite bit unpredictable for me; he was amazingly good in Brokeback Mountain, for example, but bored me to tears in Ned Kelly.
Turns out that very unpredictability makes him perfect for a "reimagined" darker, grittier, noncampy version of the Joker. In the original Burton Batman, the Joker steals the show and thus completely overshadowed every conversation about Batman movies for the ensuing 15 years (minus the Bat Nipples). The same thievery applies here, but Ledger doesn't do it in a "ooh look, Jack is acting like he just downed a case of Red Bull.... again!" sort of way. No, Ledger's Joker is a self-proclaimed agent of chaos, and from when he first walks on screen uttering similar words that I allude to in my post title, you know that he's about to take you for a ride.
One fucked up ride.
Ledger's Joker is not funny. Not at all. And he knows it. He's not supposed to be. Sure he laughs, but it's the laughter of a hyena about to chow on a wounded gazelle, a salivating, gutteral sort of tittering that belongs in a Stephen King book. Sometimes he shrieks. But he does. not. once. in. the. entire. movie. inspire. the. audience. to. laugh. Full stop. End of line. **** What he does do is leave us constantly giggling. Nervously. This giggling should not be taken for actual laughter. It's the sort of insecure chuckle emitted by a person who's just seen something so completely inappropriate, so completely out of left field, that he or she can't help but emit a nervous chattering as a coping mechanism while we try to process "Oh holy fuck, did he really just do that????"
This Joker is unstable. He's completely amoral. You will be extremely glad that he exists only on the big screen. And Gotham is his playground. Whereas in Batman Begins Ra's al Gul was a calculating villain, the type of comic book gentleman villain that you sit down and have a chess match with--while the audience watches move-by-move and discusses who will come out on top-- in The Dark Knight you get none of that. The Joker is the sort of chap who blithely kicks over the table and sets fire to the game board, and while the rest of us scramble to pick up the pieces or stare for a second, in shock while processing the situation, he'll shoot somebody simply because they happen to be there while he's holding a gun. Whether they're an innocent bystander or one of his own men, no matter. But he's run across a very strange, effective way to inspire loyalty; people, even hardened criminals and mental patients, fear a true madman, but they'll follow one who provides even a modicum of order amidst the overwhelming chaos he creates.
At least until he blows your face off.
Both Ra's and The Joker had the same goal-- tear Gotham apart. The former failed though, because he at least played by some rules; his own, maybe, but rules nonetheless. This time Batman, Gordon, love interest and Asisstant DA Rachel, the Mayor, and District Attorney Harvey Dent scramble to pick up the pieces of that chessboard. Even working together, they're constantly 2 steps behind the calculating lunacy that consumes the city and threatens to compromise everyone's moral character. I greatly enjoyed Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face. You don't get an indication from the trailers, but that transformation is a very integral part of the movie. I won't say more because I don't see it as my place to do so. Suffice to say that we can relate, to some degree, to what each character goes through.
Whoever wrote this script is a frakkin' genius. To many it may seem like the pace is off, disjointed or too fast in parts. I think it's all intentional; we're dragged into the same world as Gordon, Dent, and even the Batman as they struggle to keep that very world from unraveling around them. It is viscerally unsettling to watch a movie and know that you're processing the events, but only barely fast enough. The entire movie plays out like a psychological drama; in a mere 2.5 hours we are given a host of character development to work with. It is hard work to make a comic book flick where not only do you relate to the characters, but you feel as if "yes, all that personification of an animal as my superhero avatar" stuff, all those crazy costumes and gadgets, they really could be part of my world. The Dark Knight excels in this department, easily suppressing its predecessor. Some people will see that as a negative, undoubtedly because they fear the consequences of a reality where The Joker could exist. Sometimes fiction is too damn freaky to be fact, and blurring that line is unsettling as hell.
I can't say I blame them. But damned if I'm going to let that keep me from seeing this flick again in the theater.
****I was just reminded of one actual funny remark where the Joker waxes Jerry Maguire, but even that was disturbing because you can't quite tell how much he actually meant it.
But he does. not. once. in. the. entire. movie. inspire. the. audience. to. laugh. Full stop. End of line.
Not according to my audience, although, admittedly, it's for the very reason you cite: he's so unstable that when he sits down next to Dent in the hospital, takes off the surgeon's mask and says, politely, "Hi," the audience cracked. As too when he exited the hospital, ambled like a silent film star -- think Keaton or Chaplin -- smacked the detonator, waited for the response, smacked it again, then turned to the camera satisfied. I was trying to figure out why "Hi" was funny, but blowing up the hospital was obvious -- Ledger had a woefully underutilized talent for physical comedy.
My audience also loved the hospital bit with dressing as a nurse and the detonator. I must say that's the most grotesque look I've ever seen for any treatment of Two-Face.
Ledger made Nicholson look like a comic-book character.