The Joker’s Wild (The Dark Knight)
Heath Ledger’s Gotham Nights
or alive, Ledger was destined to dominate The
DarkKnight. An unspoken rule is
in effect: The bad guys tend to get the best lines in
It’s a terrific performance, as memorable as Jack Nicholson’s classic turn in the role (in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman) but even more dangerous. In The Dark Knight, the Joker is an evil trickster, the embodiment of chaos, and Ledger’s wound-up performance is perfect. There is no plan the Joker won’t undermine, no ally he won’t double-cross, no scheme he won’t overturn. His rule is there are no rules worth obeying, no truth that’s not a lie. He even changes his origin story, the tale of how he became so grotesque, three times by movie’s end.
The Joker is impossible to pen in or pin down, his capacity for brutality unrestricted by reason or faith. He throws gasoline and a match on stacks of money piled to the rafters of a warehouse and delights at the crackling bonfire. With his pasty pancake face marked with a broad red mouth slash and black rings around his expressive eyes, he’s a sinister clown, a glib-tongued master of evasion. The crusading District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), labels him a terrorist but in his lawless destruction the Joker puts even Al Quaeda and the Shining Path in the shade. How to fight an enemy without a cause beyond, perhaps, his own survival as an avatar of nihilism?
In rampage after rampage, Dent, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the Batman strain to hold back this walking nightmare. Poor Christian Bale. His ostensible love interest, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), excites no chemistry, even when she’s on Dent’s arm. The most Bale gets as an actor is to speak in a low voice of bitter hostility, reeking of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. The Joker makes his day repeatedly.
a little and mixed messages about
bad Alfred’s warning goes unheeded. The limits of power are a persistent
subtext in The Dark Knight. Dent’s
for-broke assault on
Directed once again by Christopher Nolan, The DarkKnight has none of the eager creativity within a tight budget that marked his indie debut, Memento. The story threatens to become incoherent; the narrative begins to crumble from the computer-generated visual excess of bone breaking violence, exploding cars and demolished buildings. The Dark Knight clocks in around a half hour too long for its own good.
Like a really bad news day, there are only a few points of light in the darkness but they are important. In one of the most moving scenes, the passengers on a pair of ferryboats, faced with the chance to save themselves by pushing a button detonating the other boat, are finally moved to toss the detonators into the river. The Joker is momentarily flummoxed. In a world of corruption and decay, people can’t always be counted on to do the wrong thing.