Like pretty much everyone else in the country this weekend, I caught “The Dark Knight.” Beyond the gripping action sequences, moody ambiance and stellar special effects, the haunting performance of the late Heath Ledger is what makes the movie a must-see.
True to the accounts I’d heard and read prior to seeing the movie, he disappears into the role in a way that unfathomably outdoes Jack Nicholson, who by comparison was playing a cranky Jack Nicholson in clown makeup. Among comic book movies I’ve seen, Ledger made the Joker by far the most believable villain, making his posthumous performance all the more chilling. He made the character murderous but multidimensional, ruthless but riotous.
Unlike Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in “There Will Be Blood,” Ledger’s isn’t quite the slam-dunk for a best actor Oscar, but even with months to go before the Academy Awards and a previous nod for “Brokeback Mountain,” it would be hard to argue against another nomination at this point of the movie season.
Oscar-winner Ang Lee, a Larchmont resident who directed Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain,” said a few months ago that when he heard Ledger’s Joker hiss the line “Let’s put a smile on that face,” Lee didn’t recognize the actor behind it until he looked at the screen.
I couldn’t believe that was Heath. He was such a different person, used such a different voice for Brokeback Mountain. It’s haunting, how much he disappeared into his characters. It wasn’t until I heard that, that I realized just how gifted he was with his voice.
But talent isn’t the only reason Ledger, who died Jan. 22 after an apparent accidental drug overdose, has been missed. A day after his death, Suburbarazzi noted that CNN printed a quote attributed to Dan Bova of Larchmont:
Once when I was driving in Brooklyn, I got a flat tire. As I was jacking up my car, this deep voice from behind me said, â€˜Need a hand?â€™ It was Heath Ledger. I couldnâ€™t believe it. He helped jack up my car and change the tire. He was really good with tools!
All the more reason that the six Americans who haven’t already seen “The Dark Knight” should do so sooner than later.
(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/USA Today.)