Thursday, 27 December 2012

THE IMDB Top 50 CHALLENGE #10 The Dark Knight

Despite the high regard in which it is held, The Dark Knight is a flawed film. There are too many characters with too many faces, it’s far too long and the not-quite-climactic boat scene is just an undercooked philosophical exercise on screen. But there is one thing which all fans, fanboys and film critics agree on: Heath Ledger is magnificent as the Joker.

Whilst the film was still shooting, Ledger outlined his vision for the character as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.” What couldn’t have been anticipated was that, six month’s after his death, Ledger’s Joker would become one of the most memorable and iconic screen villains of all time.

Director Christopher Nolan allowed Ledger huge creative freedom in bringing the Joker to life, leading to the Australian actor locking himself away in a London hotel for a month to experiment with different voices and tics – a process which Ledger says led him into ‘the realm of the psychopath’. Sadly, art imitated life when Ledger passed away in his room following a cocktail of prescription drugs taken in an apparent attempt to quiet the voices which stopped him sleeping.

The tragedy which took the young actor’s life only solidified people’s support and affection for him, with expectations of the movie high following Batman Begins and Nolan’s superb viral marketing campaign: often featuring tantalising glimpses of Ledger’s Joker. The combination of these factors and the expectant fervour which greets any superhero film combined to create a level of anticipation barely seen before.  And from the very moment he appears on screen, the Joker does not disappoint: the character is a carefully crafted and calibrated ‘agent of chaos’. From his appearance to his mannerisms, from his speech to his costume, everything about the Joker combines brilliantly to create an utterly unhinged villain capable of absolutely anything. 

Rather than the comic caricature previously offered up, this Joker has a far more chilling appearance thanks to make-up inspired by Francis Bacon and A Clockwork Orange. Framed by greasy green hair which looks like the result of a botched dye job, the smeared, tear stained pan stick and dark eyes are off-set by a smudge of rouge around the Joker’s misshapen, scarred mouth. It’s a look which degrades as the film goes on, allowing the Joker’s circumstances and environment to be reflected on his face: a marked improvement on Jack Nicholson’s perma-grin.

Physically, too, Ledger is magnificent. Simultaneously skittish and purposeful, menacing and humorous, he lurches, skips and slides across the screen wonderfully, improvising wonderful examples of business (his famously unscripted reaction to the hospital bombing is a fine example), always aware of his audience – and on the verge of erupting into uncontained violence.

Most remarkable of all is the Joker’s voice. It’s a vocal tour-de-force from Ledger: swerving in pitch and tone, moving between a breathy sing-song to a baritone snarl with alarming ease. At times playful, but always with a hint of menace, Ledger even manages to turn his physical scarring into a wetly reptilian quality – thanks largely to his lizard like tongue. His laugh, too, is a unique creation which begins as a gurgle in the back of his throat before erupting in a high pitched squeal of fearsome delight. Whenever possible, Nolan left Ledger’s voice unaltered in the sound mix, unwilling to risk damaging or altering Ledger’s unique and inimitable performance – a performance which words simply cannot do justice and which will, rightly, be what this remarkably gifted young actor will be most fondly remembered for.

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