Ledger Glows in Sinister “Knight”

Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures

Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures
Heath Ledger haunts the city of Gotham as “The Joker” in “The Dark Knight,” his final film appearance before his death earlier this year, and a performance that has led to significant Oscar buzz.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a movie with as much hype surrounding it months before its release as “The Dark Knight.” Just when you think the superhero genre has been played out and must rely on witticisms and humor such as in “Iron Man,” Jonathon and Christopher Nolan deliver a quite humorless three-hour epic that explores social order and stability more than gunfights and feats of superhuman abilities.
As District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) emerges and begins to clean up Gotham’s crime crisis in one amazing fell swoop, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is faced with the welcome possibility that Gotham will no longer need Batman. If all continues as is, Bruce will be able to allow himself to go back to his former lover, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is ironically dating Harvey Dent. But just when things seem to be going oh-so-well, a psychotic and rather off-putting man whom people refer to as the Joker (Heath Ledger) steps out of the shadows and begins wreaking havoc in Gotham. He begins killing people each day in bizarre and often subtle fashions and promises to continue until “the Batman” turns himself in. Bruce’s sunny horizon is torn away and he is now faced with a difficult decision: turn himself in and render Gotham defenseless against this madman or continue fighting with more and more blood being poured on his hands each day.
Bale does not disappoint. Even as a multi-millionaire success flaunting helicopters and courting three ladies at a time, Bale convinces his audience of the severity of Wayne’s situation and his emotional distress. Eckhart, in turn, delivers an equally intriguing character in the form of Dent. We see his quick rise to fame as Gotham’s “white knight,” its savior in cleaning up the crime problem, and his rapid decline into a vengeful killer without morals or a sense of self-preservation after he suffers a traumatic accident and loss.
Both Bale and Dent make for an interesting movie, but it would be a crime in itself not to acknowledge the late Ledger’s contribution to the movie. His last role as the half-insane Joker is arguably the driving force behind everything that happens in the movie and thus everything that makes it so gripping. It could be said that the Joker’s entire experience in Gotham is nothing more than a “social experiment,” as he puts it later in the movie. Right from the get-go, the Joker’s first murder and demand for the revealing of Batman sparks a flicker of chaos in the city. The amount of disorder and distrust in the city grows with each Joker murder: the commissioner is poisoned from his own liquor bottle, the judge overseeing Dent’s mob case is killed in a car explosion and even the mayor is almost assassinated in a 21-gun salute by the Joker himself.
What is most terrifying about the Joker and what makes him such a great villain is that he has no superpowers. With his twisted sense of logic and disturbing intelligence, he is able to recruit hordes of lackeys and put them to use to carry out his insane and purposeless war on Gotham. Beyond the Joker’s mind-gripping sense of morality, his very character is intriguing, from his constant lip licking and guttural intonation of the much publicized “Why so serious?” to a chilling Joker laugh that just sounds so right. His sense of humor is both horrifying and infectious. Ledger’s last performance is truly groundbreaking, and deserving of an Oscar.
“The Dark Knight” does indeed live up to its months of hype. Part violent social experiment, part Shakespearean tragedy, part 18-wheeler-doing-a-full-flip-onto-its-back action, “The Dark Knight” is sure to put a smile on your face.

Rating: 5/5