Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan – The Intellectual Knight Gotham needs

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I must become a creature of the night, black, terrible, a ……Director

I’ve watched all of Chris Nolan’s films so far multiple times.

With repeat viewings, his earlier films stand up much better than his later films in terms of a coherent plot, internal structure, character motivation, story arc etc.

From the tight internal continuity of Memento or Insomnia to the laid back structure of the Dark Knight Rises or Interstellar (both full of glaring plot holes) it seems Nolan has moved further away from his roots and more into traditional blockbuster territory, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

His first three flicks (Following, Memento, Insomnia) were never in a rush within the Hollyweird production line, nor did they have such high expectations as his later films.  All of Nolan’s films all good films, they each have their strengths and weaknesses.  Whatever flaws any Nolan film has, they still serve the primary purpose of being entertaining.

But as Nolan’s career goes on, each film seems to have more and more giant plot holes and a looser continuity.  The increasing amount of plot holes and logical inconsistencies doesn’t really make sense for someone as attentive to plot and character as Christopher Nolan.

He knows every frame of his films, and if there is a major plot hole, you can bet he is more than likely aware of it, but he is also aware that there are strict time frames for big studio pictures.  That there are major plot holes is also in part because he aims high, and puts so many big ideas into a film that some of them are bound to clash, or not make sense when big idea (1) is juxtaposed with big idea (2).

Christopher Nolan’s recent movies have become less about tight internal story structure, and more about the performances, high concept ideas and spectacle.  I’d argue that the flaws in his films come down to putting so much into big budget films, cramming them so full of ideas in a limited time frame, that there is just not the luxury of time to nit-pick and edit the hell out of EVERY flaw before the release window.

Christopher Nolan Batman Begins Memento Inception Insomnia Interstellar Guy Pearce
So then… I forgot what I was going to say

You get the well developed core ideas and narrative arc of the main characters, while the finer details are glossed over somewhat.  I am fine with that kind of compromise, because of all Nolan’s films so far has some kind of emotional pay off or resolution for the main character that makes for satisfying viewing.

There are enough high concept ideas (intentionally left open to interpretation) thrown out there in say Inception or Interstellar that the viewer is rewarded for paying attention, and repeat viewings reveal new layers of depth and insight that just are not possible to pick up on the first viewing.  At the end of the day, all films have micro-flaws in them due to shooting schedules, budget and time constraints etc.

I am perhaps more forgiving of Nolan’s films as a fan of his work, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice the flaws, if anything it means I notice them more, as I don’t pay the same level of attention to minor details in other films.  I also go back and read film spotter’s guides to every little thing that doesn’t add up in any given film.

In a way, spotting the flaws are a perverse joy, it adds another layer to the film, but some flaws are pure nonsense of course, and just make you angry that they were not fixed.

Not that there is anything wrong, with… that.  

-Jerry Seinfeld

Working on a big budget studio picture is a little bit like working for NASA.  There is a time frame, a window to launch that rocket, and if you miss that window, well that is NOT an option.  You make sure all the essentials are covered, but if somebody forgets their favourite Rolling Stones big lips T-shirt or their toothbrush, then tough shit, they are not going to scrub the mission for some minor inconvenience.

And a studio is not going to bend over backwards for ANY director, unless they are guaranteed a LOT of money in return for their investment.  Even then, no directer is God, any of them can be fired from a production if they piss off enough people, unless they have some of their own money in it, or have sought out independent financing and distribution.

Nolan still manages to make intelligent block busters that please a mainstream crowd and most of the nerds of the world.  He throws out thrilling action sequences that recall the best of Bond, Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, while giving us intellectually stimulating ideas and characters exploring themes of identity and existential angst comparable to The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Solaris, Dark City, Blade Runner, John Carpenter’s The Thing  or Bergman’s The Seventh Seal if you want to get fancy.

The most interesting comparison I read recently on Nolan’s ambitions as a director is that the author of The Prestige novel Christopher Priest says Nolan aims to be another Stanley Kubrick, but his strengths seem to to more in line with being an Alfred Hitchcock.

I don’t think that is an unfair comparison, and frankly I would rather see intelligent but understandable films in the Hitchcock style – than pretentious, sometimes incomprehensible (but no doubt still the work of a genius) films in the style of Kubrick.  Film geeks love Kubrick’s films, but outside of a couple of his films – like The Shining or Full Metal Jacket mainstream audiences don’t really engage with his work.

What he’s trying to be is some kind of modern Kubrick  And I think he’d be better off being a modern Hitchcock

Christopher Priest / author ‘The Prestige’

Of course, there are no limits to what cinematic legends Nolan can pilfer ideas from.  All good artists have multiple influences, there is no need to be pigeon-holed into being one type of director.  But I for one have no issue with Nolan being compared to Hitchcock in the sense that he makes intelligent thought provoking films that reach a mass audience.  Film making is a business that exists to make profit like any other, and if you are not seen promoting or selling  a film, then you are not really in the business.

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Accusations of Nolan repeating himself are totally unfounded

Kubrick made clever and complex films that often required an educated audience to appreciate, while Hitchcock made basically the same movie over and over, but with enough variety and above average clever-ness that it usually felt fresh and exciting, rather than boring, while still engaging  a mainstream audience.

Despite the topical contrast in Christopher Nolan’s films, he does makes the same basic films over and over.  The core idea expressed throughout his films, more than any other is about identity.  The ladies in his films don’t come off too well, most of them end up either killing themselves or being murdered, which leads to speculation by click baiting internet randoms that Nolan may be a woman hater.

Several of his female characters are man hating shrews who are out to kill the lead character.

My counter theory is that Christopher Nolan is more likely a film lover, particularly a lover of films by Alfred Hitchcock, who made no qualms about killing any character if it served the plot, or made for a dramatic moment.  I do not feel that Nolan is a woman hater, chauvinist or anything like that, and comments that suggest it are really just looking to create sensationalism to get clicks on websites to tabloid style articles of little depth or meaning.

As clever as Hitchcock’s films are, (and he is in my all time top ten of great directors) he managed to walk a line between commercial interests and art, leaning more towards what was commercial and popular, rather than what was clever or arty for the sake of it.  Hitchcock films put bums on seats, as do the best Nolan films.

If Nolan’s true strengths lie in being a modern day Hitchcock, mixed with some high concept intellectual ideas and deeper meanings in the style of Kubrick -well I hope that Nolan embraces that and that his next blockbuster will not only be intelligent, but will also put bums on seat without large amounts of plot holes.  But I also hope that any film he makes is never dumbed down for an audience.  Audiences are smarter than Hollywood thinks, dumbed down entertainment is just insulting.

The significant plot holes in films like The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar make repeat viewings of those films a tedious exercise in trying to ignore those glaring flaws.  I don’t mind a few mistakes here and there, but when there are too many it takes you out of the film.  The clever thing about Inception was, any flaws were potentially part of a dream, or there on purpose to throw you off, but I don’t know if I can be as forgiving of his other films.

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The International Squinting Competition was heating up

Ultimately motion pictures are a commercial medium, they always have been.  Some people manage to make art within that medium, but to pretend is has not always been a commercial medium is to bury one’s head in the sand.

Christopher Nolan has managed to defy the odds by creating big budget blockbuster films that also have brains.  He has his critics of course, and he is nowhere near perfect.  But he creates consistently entertaining films, and what more can you ask of any director?  Films are there primarily to entertain, any artistic expression or stimulating ideas or philosophy is a bonus feature, and a welcome one at that in the case of the Nolanverse.


Did you miss these other recent Chris Nolan Batman Trilogy Posts?

Why Christian Bale is the Batman Gotham Deserves

Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face: Gotham’s White Knight

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

Heath Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance PART#2

Why Christian Bale is the Batman Gotham Deserves

Christian Bale Batman Bruce Wayne

I never want to feel that I’m playing it safe. -Christian Bale

A few years ago… well, MORE than a few years ago my best old mate would not shut about some guy called Christian Bale.

“Who’s he then?  Never heard of ’em” I said.

“Oh, he’s good, you gotta watch him in The Prestige, or The Machinist!” he replied.

“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about, I’ve never heard of those films… and I don’t know I care to continue this conversation, good DAY Sir!”

“Trust me, you have GOT to watch them, you’ll thank me man”

And so it went.

Except the “good DAY Sir part” from Willy Wonka, I added that in just now.

So one lazy afternoon, weeks later after I had finished work and *completely* forgotten the conversation with my friend I ambled into a video rental store from the last century and saw the cover of some movie that proclaimed it was “Memento meets Fight Club!”  Well, balderdash and poppycock!  I love both Memento and Fight Club, and surely this was another wild and irresponsible claim that would prove to be a bald faced lie.

But then I remembered my mate who was raving about The Machinist from a few weeks back. I decided that it would probably be crap, but I would watch it just to prove whoever wrote that steaming pile of hyperbole dead wrong.  I watched The Machinist later that night, towards midnight, the perfect time for a paranoid fever inducing film of madness and insomnia.

That quote on the front cover turned out to be pretty accurate. Fast forward in time and I watched The Bale in The Prestige, which became my favourite film for several years.  Not because of Bale, but because our man (I live in Oz) Hugh Jackman was in it, and I liked him in everything, even the crap films. Also,  David Bowie was keeping up appearance as Nicola Tesla, and Bowie is my favourite musician of all time, so I knew I had to watch it, at least for old Ziggy Stardust. Hugh Jackman Christian Bale The Prestige_800x532 The Prestige is without a doubt, Christopher Nolan’s best film.  The internal structure is so sound, that it makes criticisms of the plot in his later films such as The Dark Knight Rises and Inception even more poignant.

To be fair, The Prestige was based on a book, while Inception was not.  Inception is my favourite Chris Nolan film by far, and the one I have watched most next to The Dark Knight.  But while Inception is my personal favourite, I think that The Prestige is Nolan’s best overall film so far.  It became the mold for most of his following films, it established his working relationship with Christian Bale and “good luck charm” Michael Caine.

The Prestige sets up two warring adversaries – not unlike the Joker and Batman, and it features women marganalised by career obsessed men who abandon their loved ones perhaps for a higher calling, or perhaps just because they are selfish – similar to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Cobb in Inception and Cooper in Interstellar.  While similar ideas were explored in Memento and Insomnia, The Prestige became the prototypical blueprint for a “Nolan” film, one he has not deviated far from ever since. After watching The Machinist and The Prestige I sought out any other films with Christian Bale.

American Psycho was tremendous fun, I loved Bale’s performance, Harsh Times was another highlight.  Bale became someone I went from never having heard of, to eagerly anticipating any upcoming film he might be in. I was genuinely excited when he was announced as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Batman Begins, but  I never went to the cinema to see it.

Why not?

Two words: Joel Schumacher.

Joel SChumacher director Batman and robin Forever_800x571 Nicole-Kidman-and-Val-Kilmer-Batman-Forever George Clooney Bruce Wayne The bad taste in my mouth was still there from the previous off the rails lunatic high camp low intelligence Schumacher directed Batman films that I did not care for.  Every performance was turned up to ’11’, and not in a good way. Christian Bale brings a certain kind of intensity, passion and devotion to any role he inhabits.

The funny thing is, if you look at the other actors who have played Batman (not including the shitty old movie serials), all of the actors are pretty decent in their own way.  The two Schumacher films are total rubbish in my view, but both Val Kilmer and George Clooney I really like in a variety of other roles.

Val Kilmer I really dig in Spartan (that co-starred a young Kristen Bell, later sassy TV detective and crush of a million nerds Veronica Mars) and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jnr.  Kilmer, while only briefly in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans alongside Nicolas Cage makes a strong impression that recalls his best work, and had me pleading to the movie gods to rescue Kilmer’s long dead career from Micheal Madsen levels of bargain basement crap.

George Clooney I have enjoyed in just about everything.  Out of Sight and Oceans’s 11, The Descendants, Micheal Clayton, Three Kings, Good Night and Good Luck, Up in the Air etc.  Yet his Batman is shockingly bad, so much so that Clooney has publicly acknowledged his performance was not good. Yet, I don’t blame Kilmer or Clooney for their performances.  An actor who does their job follows the lead of the director, writers and producers.  With the exception of the power players like Pitt, Dicaprio, Russel Crowe and friends who write their own ticket these days thanks to Producer credits, and long term friendships with bankable name Directors.  They can make or break a project if they choose to. Christian Bale Buff Batman Begins Shirtless vs The Machinist super skinny Body Transformation The Schumacher Batman films followed the Batman ’66 idea of over the top camp, there is nothing wrong with that – but they did it as a time when people wanted a darker version of Batman – at least the public did.

Meanwhile, the film studios felt that Tim Burton’s Batman movies were “too dark”.  Studios have been saying Burton’s films are too dark for over two decades now, despite the fact that most his films really are not that dark, if anything his films have become lighter in tone with the exception of the genuinely dark Sweeney Todd. How does any of this relate to Christian Bale?  Well, he is known for his passion and dedication to a performance.

But interestingly, if you look at the previous Batmen – Micheal Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney – all of them I would call passionate and dedicated actors.  Except we don’t see that so much with them as Batman, but more in other films. Although, they don’t tend to put their bodies through physical extremes for roles like Bale in The Machinist, Rescue Dawn  The Fighter and Batman Begins. Bale’s dedication to total physical transformation, going from one extreme to another recalls the classic Bobby Deniro/ Scorsese pictures Raging Bull and The King of Comedy.  Denero transforms himself into a lean and mean athlete for the boxing movie Raging Bull, and then later an overweight comedian in The King of Comedy. The King of Comedy Rupert Pupkin Robert Deniro Raging Bull Taxi Driver Body Comparison Micheal Keaton for example is far darker as a recovering addict in the brilliant Clean and Sober.  Val Kilmer is far darker and more passionate as Jim Morrison in the Oliver Stone directed The Doors, or David Mamet’s Spartan.  George Clooney is far more brooding and dark in Syriana.  So each of these actors was quite capable of being a darker dark knight in the style of Chris Nolan and Christian Bale or Frank Miller or Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams. That they were not was really a reflection of the times, and what the studio wanted to put on screen more than anything.

It is easy to blame actors and directors for a poor movie, but for a studio blockbuster film made by committee, the fault equally lies in the people who dictate what the tone of a movie will be before it is shot, or a word of the script is written. The studio – in this case Warner Brothers – wanted a lighter tone for Batman and Robin after the dark films of Tim Burton.  In Batman Returns the movie starts with parents trying to murder their own baby, who later grows up to be the Penguin, despite their efforts.

The Penguin consumes a raw fish and later vomits blood in generous amounts, and yet later in the film Batman is harassed by cartoonish real Penguins with rockets strapped to their backs. The style of Batman Returns (thematically, not visually) is a bit of a mess.  In some ways it is the darkest Batman film ever made, in other ways it was already heading towards Adam West Batman ’66 style camp, BEFORE Joel Schumacher ever came along to ruin the dreams of a million children around the world. The idea that Nolan’s Batman is the darkest is somewhat erroneous.

For example, Micheal Keaton’s Batman kills goons left and right and dumps his love interests at the first available opportunity.  He seems amoral and uncaring, close to the original Batman in Detective Comics #27. By contrast, Christian Bale’s Batman goes out of his way to save lives, and is like a lovesick puppy-dog when he realises the love of his life has spurned him when he returns to Gotham.  So the idea that Burton’s Batman or Nolan’s Batman is “darkest”  kind of misses the point, both the Keaton and Bale versions of Batman are dark in their own way, and both are influenced by the same source material. Chrsitian Bale Batman Bruce Wanye Mansion

I start from scratch with each movie; I wipe the slate and I certainly don’t rely on some bag of acting tricks I’ve amassed over the years  -Christian Bale

Christian Bale came arrived at the right time.  He arrived when the world was ready to see another cinematic Batman that was more in line with the darker version of the Batman character that has been around since the 1970s. The foundations of the modern day Batman were laid down by the Neal Adams (artist) and Denny O’ Neil (writer) run in the 1970s.

They re-established Batman as a super cool character.  A globe trotting spy and man of action like James Bond, who had over the top adventures, and he even got a cool Bond like villain in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul. Frank Miller established the darkest version yet of the Batman in The Dark Knight Returns in the 1986 prestige format four issue mini-series that was later reprinted in a single volume and has remained in print ever since.

Dark Knight Returns is the single most influential Batman story ever published. Miller followed this up with Batman: Year One which Nolan’s Batman Begins draws on heavily for its story and themes.  Allan Moore wrote The Killing Joke in 1988, the only story as dark, if not MORE dark then The Dark Knight Returns. Batman 404 1987 Year One_390x600 The Killing Joke well and truly re-established the Joker as a psychotic amoral mass-murdering lunatic, and that version has become the main version of the Joker in recent decades.  The Joker had been portrayed in many different styles over the decades, sometimes he committed pranks and robberies, sometimes he was a killer, his personality varied with the times, as did Batman.

The Killing Joke, and a few other key stories would lead to the eventual metamorphosis Heath Ledger would undergo for The Dark Knight. All of the great Batman stories ultimately paved the way for a dark knight that was embraced in the modern era, who was closer than ever to the modern comics version of the Caped Crusader.  Christian Bale had the intensity, passion and dedication to pull off both Bruce and Batman in a believable manner, quickly becoming a fan-favourite Batman on screen.

Of all the big screen Batmen, he perhaps is closest to the character in his values. Bale is passionate, dedicated, unrelenting and determined in his acting career, and I feel that this puts him a cut above any actor to put on the cape and cowl so far.  To be Batman means being the best version of yourself you can be, it means making sacrifices instead of being soft and lazy, to be Batman requires that unwavering dedication and iron-will, and Christian Bale has no shortage of that.  He is by far my favourite live action Batman, and I am glad he took the role seriously.

15 Greatest Quotes on Ledger’s Legendary JOKER Performance

It’s the second stinking hot summer month of 2015 here in Perth, Australia, and I have already watched Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight three times so far.

The Dark Knight is a film I find endlessly rewarding on each repeat viewing, for ONE main reason.  Can you guess what that is?

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The initial fever-like frenzy that surrounded the cinematic release was the kind of buzz that normally I ignore.  Take for example all the hype for the upcoming Batman v Superman film.

It is the film I most want to see, but read NOTHING about online,

…because I don’t want to know what will happen.

I’ve subscribed to Empire (the film review magazine) for over five years now, and devour each monthly review of new films.

But in the lead up to The Dark Knight, I read not one of their articles, nor their review of The Dark Knight, at least not until AFTER I had seen the film.

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Chris Nolan films are films that I truly savor, and look forward to.  I want to know as little as possible about them, other than the cast or the general setting.  In this way I can enjoy the films on my own terms, and not have them ruined by plot spoilers or tainted by caustic reviews.

Watching The Dark Knight (and the other two Nolan Bat-verse) films this month has got me all nostalgic, so I thought why not do a series of articles on the films, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly.

As much as I love the Nolan Batman Trilogy (which is not really a trilogy at all, I’ll tell you why later…) they are not without flaws, especially the giant plot holes in The Dark Knight Rises, which somehow manages to be a decent film, despite the MANY logical flaws and inconsistencies, leaving it an uneven film at best.

Well, there is no rush, I’ve got old cast interviews to read from all three films, in character publicity photos to drool over and some pondering to do before getting into the meat of things (in upcoming articles).   But in the mean time, let’s start with 15 great quotes about Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in Chris Nolan’s film, from popular press reviews of The Dark Knight.  

Because Heath Ledger’s phenomenal performance as the Joker is easily my biggest highlight of the Nolanverse Batman films.

I love acting. Oh, God, I love it. But all this fame and all this bullshit attention. I’m not supernatural. I’ve done nothing extremely special to deserve the position. It happens every couple of years, and it’s happened to hundreds of people before me.  – Heath Ledger / Newsweek

“Batman” isn’t a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It creates characters we come to care about. That’s because of the performances, because of the direction, because of the writing, and because of the superlative technical quality of the entire production. This  film, and to a lesser degree “Iron Man,” redefine the possibilities of the “comic-book movie.”

– Roger Ebert

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“Even without Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, Christopher Nolan’s pitch-black sequel to BATMAN BEGINS (2005) would be a tour de force. But Ledger’s mesmerizingly damaged agent provocateur is the film’s dark heart, a presence so malevolently unpredictable that it remains palpable even when he’s not on screen.”

“That Ledger stands out in such a powerhouse ensemble is a tribute to his radically unhinged interpretation of a familiar character: The lank hair tinged seaweed green, the darting tongue and faint lisp that call constant attention to the ghastly rictus of his mouth, the nightmarishly smudged make up… taken together, they make previous Jokers feel like, well, jokes.”

– Maitland McDonagh / TV Guide

“Actors are sometimes described as “disappearing into a role.” Never was that term more fitting than in the case of Ledger…  

With his cracked white pancake makeup, black-rimmed eyes, smeared lipstick and greasy, greenish-tinged hair, The Joker bears no resemblance to the strikingly handsome actor who played him. In fact, the character is like nothing we’ve seen or heard before.

Sure, there’s a whiff of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange in the performance, but Ledger has made this anarchic maniac a singular and supremely unhinged villain. From the clumsily repellant way he flips his tongue around to his sneering, nasal voice, he is a peerless eccentric.”

– Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

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“Ledger is so horrifically riveting you can’t take your eyes off of him.

In Gotham City, crime is the force that never ends, and the arrival of the maniacal Joker (Ledger) is a manifestation of its most anarchic impulses.

With his butchered face resembling a wrinkled finger wrapped in a Band-Aid for too long, his love of chaos drives the Joker to take giddy pleasure from dragging everyone down to his murderous level.”

– Joe Neumaier / NY Daily News

“In The Dark Knight, nothing is nearly so cut-and-dried. Whereas the radicalized Ra’s, with his arsenal of dirty bombs and his urge to eradicate Western “decadence,” was a supervillain of the sort that anyone who reads the papers has been conditioned to expect, the Joker of The Dark Knight is all the more terrifying for not having a plan or an identifiable motive.

A committed anarchist in a dusting of floury foundation, a smear of crimson lipstick, and pools of Louise Brooks eye shadow, this Joker isn’t the ebullient prankster of Batman movies (and TV shows) past, but rather a freakishly disturbing embodiment of those destructive human impulses that can’t so easily be explained away.

His only rule is to show others the folly of rules, the absurdity of striving to impose order upon chaos. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” observes the ever-wise butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Except that this Joker doesn’t merely want to watch; he wants to strike the match.”

– Scott Foundas / Village Voice

“His Joker is wonderfully textured, with a weird lip-smacking facial tic and a shoulder-hunching gait. He’s also very funny—a funniness that has more to do with timing than with the usual villainous catchphrases.”

– Dana Stevens / Slate

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“Batman’s stature as a radical symbol of good has invited a more sinister criminal presence to Gotham City — and, as seen in the crackerjack bank-robbery sequence that opens the pic, one who operates in terrifyingly unpredictable ways.

Utterly indifferent to simple criminal motivations like greed, Ledger’s maniacally murderous Joker is as pure an embodiment of irrational evil as any in modern movies.

He’s a pitiless psychopath who revels in chaos and fears neither pain nor death, a demonic prankster for whom all the world’s a punchline.”

– Variety

“Ledger’s Joker is every bit as disturbing as he is disturbed — tongue-flickingly reptilian, and yet disarmingly commonsensical in the way he relies on the dark side of human nature to aid him in wreaking havoc.

He uses crowd psychology to endanger crowds, subverts legal niceties (wait till you see what he does with that one phone call he’s allowed when arrested), and greets the perpetually self-doubting Batman as a fellow damaged soul.

It’s a heart- stoppingly unpredictable performance, haunted by the audience’s knowledge of Ledger’s death earlier this year — and rendering even darker what has to be as dark a superhero fantasy as Hollywood is likely to produce any time soon.

Regardless, the real relationship here is between a Batman in existential crisis and a Joker who’d love to leap with him into the abyss tight-assed yin and anarchist yang in a fantasy franchise that Nolan (in concert with his scriptwriting brother Jonathan) has made as riveting for its psychological heft as for the adrenaline rushes it inspires at regular intervals.”

– Bob Mondello / NPR

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“Bale, all steely reserve, once again captivates as the haunted caped crusader who must shed morality to beat the devil at his game.

But just as Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was anchored by the joy-buzzer glee of Jack Nicholson’s party-down Joker, The Dark Knight takes its cue from its Joker and his deadly circus of chaos. Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing, scary-funny performance begins with the creepiness of his image: the greasy long hair, the makeup that looks as if he’d drawn it on with crayons, then messed it with tears.

That ghostly rotting paint job covers his scarred smile (explained by a backstory that gives you the willies, even if he just made it up), and the disturbing thing is that when Ledger’s Joker talks, with those ”Ehhh, what’s up, Doc?” vowels that make him sound like Al Franken crossed with a nerdish pedophile, you realize that the icky sloshing sound you hear is him sucking on his cheeks; he uses his attachment to those scars to fuel his sadistic (and masochistic) whims.

This Joker may be a torture freak, but he also has a lost quality, a melancholy hidden within those black-circled eyes. He turns slaughter into a punchline; he’s a homicidal comedian with an audience of one — himself.”

– Owen Gleiberman / Entertainment Weekly

“And then, of course, there is the Joker, whose wide smile has been carved into his face. He’s a slapstick gargoyle. When Jack Nicholson played the Joker, his campiness was only one step removed from the giggles of the old “Batman” TV series.

By contrast, Ledger doesn’t offer the audience the slightest glimmer of hope or hilarity. His motto is a sick-joke variant on Nietzsche: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.” Nietzsche had it as “stronger,” and that applies to the Joker as well: He’s fortified by awfulness.

He can’t get enough of it, and nothing – not wealth or fame or anything else – will buy him off. As Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) puts it, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

– Peter Rainer / The Christian Science Monitor

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“I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson’s broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what’s comic is hardly a relief.

No plastic mask for Ledger; his face is caked with moldy makeup that highlights the red scar of a grin, the grungy hair and the yellowing teeth of a hound fresh out of hell. To the clown prince of crime, a knife is preferable to a gun, the better to “savor the moment.”

– Peter Travers / Rolling Stone

“That would be the Joker, of course, a demonic creation and three-ring circus of one wholly inhabited by Heath Ledger.

Mr. Ledger died in January at age 28 from an accidental overdose, after principal photography ended, and his death might have cast a paralyzing pall over the film if the performance were not so alive.

But his Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once.

When the Joker enters one fray with a murderous flourish and that sawed-off smile, his morbid grin a mirror of the Black Dahlia’s ear-to-ear grimace, your nervous laughter will die in your throat.”

– Manohla Dargis / NY Times

“Admittedly, when Ledger died I was a bit perplexed at the plaudits for a guy who had a couple of above average performances under his belt, but his Joker is almost perfect. Forgotten are the clowning geriatrics of Jack Nicholson’s version, for Ledger makes the Joker his, imbuing the character with such menace and genuine insanity I finally got a sense of what talent he really had.”

– Pete Vonder Haar / Film Threat

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“But the performance that you will remember for years is Ledger’s as the Joker.

Stepping from behind the shadows of Jack Nicholson’s Joker of 1989 (and, briefly, into the red fright wig of Cesar Romero’s TV version), Ledger is a terrifying, unpredictable presence, his shoulders rigid, his head hanging like the business end of a mallet, his fingers splaying about menacingly, his mouth pursed or spewing sneers or little smacking sounds that nauseate as much as they frighten.

Denied any sort of back story, more clever by yards than his pursuers, this Joker is like a dream of irrational evil, a terrorist without a cause, a man without a soul, a nightmare looking for minds to inhabit and discovering that he’s only happy inhabiting all of them.”

–  Heidi Williams / The Oregonian

“One shot, in particular, crystallizes everything that Ledger and Nolan were working for in “The Dark Knight.” It’s a shot that deserves to be anthologized, YouTube-ized and immortalized: The Joker is in the foreground, walking toward the camera, playing (and really, that’s the only word) with a bomb detonator.

Huge explosions are going on behind him as he walks toward us, stiff and happy and hobbling, like a toddler. He’s a child, and this is pure id. At the heart of existence isn’t creation, but chaos.”

– SFGate

“Two hours and 32 minutes long, “The Dark Knight” is grimly magisterial. It’s a summer blockbuster that contemplates near- total civic disaster: Crowds surge, tractor-trailers flip, and buildings explode, but the pop violence feels heavy, mournful.

Yet flitting through this 10-ton expressionist murk is a diseased butterfly with stringy hair and a maniacal giggle. Played by a dead actor, he’s the most alive thing here. – Ty Burr

Light barely escapes the film’s gravitational pull.

It’s not quite fair to say that the late Heath Ledger steals “The Dark Knight” from Christian Bale and the forces of (problematic) good, but, as the Joker, he is the movie’s animating principle and anarchic spark – an unstoppable force colliding with the immovable objects of Batman and director Christopher Nolan’s ambitions.

Much more serious in intent and message than 2005’s “Batman Begins,” “Dark Knight” would be fatally ponderous without Ledger’s nasty little sprite. As it is, the movie strains at its own Wagnerian seams.”

– Ty Burr / Boston (dot)com

And in case you were wondering, the deliriously delicious publicity photos are the property of Warner Brothers, they can be found online by searching for Heath Ledger Joker publicity photos.  Do check them out, as they are many beautiful high resolution photos from the same shoot that look even more spectacular at the full size resolution.

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