Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Killing Joke

No, not the band. The Batman Graphic novel. I thought it an appropriate title for today's post, seeing as how we are mourning the talented young actor who was about to ignite the Batman franchise in the best way.

As much as I love the Batman character, the key to his psychology is the villains he faces, and none more important than the Joker - the classic self-created arch nemesis. And after the comic buffoonery of Caesar Romero and the Shakespearean menace of Jack Nicholson, the prospect of watching a seriously psychopathic Joker (a living version of the craziness Mark Hamill had voiced in the animated incarnations of recent years) was thrilling. Well, production is finished and the film is in post, and once again I will join my geek brethren in a darkened theater and watch with shivers down my neck as Heath Ledger fires it up. Much like I did watching Brandon Lee in The Crow almost 15 years ago. Much like watching Stand By Me or Rebel Without a Cause does for me now.

The tragedy of a life lost so early is the loss of potential - the what ifs that life brought with it, and took away when it was gone. That goes for anyone, from troubled rock stars to enigmatic writers to a young wife with cancer.

The first time I took notice of Ledger was in the short-lived historically-bollocks-but-well-executed Celtic fantasy TV series Roar. He had that River Phoenix intensity matched with smoldering good looks that all too often indicates a candle burning twice as brightly. I watched him play opposite Mel Gibson in the overwrought The Patriot (and thought he was the best thing in the film), and thought he did a remarkable job with a complete mess of a movie in A Knight's Tale. Once again, he showed up as the best thing in The Brothers Grimm, and then exploded everybody's brain with roles opposite Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain. Finally he was getting offered some substantial quality roles, I thought.

Roles like the Joker don't happen along every day. Coupled with the danger of typecasting, there is, on the other hand, the potential for an actor to really put one's stamp on a cultural icon. I'm sure his performance will be amazing, given what's already being shown in the trailer. But henceforth, the shivery neck thing will always be a part of the experience.

Cheers, Heath. We hardly knew ye.

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