Seeing such discrepancies among the roles nominated to the Oscars this year made me wonder if I could pinpoint my favourite movie performance of all time. To my surprise (coming from someone who does not have a favourite film, nor just one favourite actor or actress), it turns out that I can, and quite easily, too. There are many more I can think of, of course, like Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver, Kirk Douglas in Ace in A Hole, Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Alain Delon in Le samouraï, Liv Ullman in Persona, Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, Toshiro Mifune in The Quiet Duel, Faye Dunaway in Network… But, for me, none of these struck the screen in the way Heath Ledger, as Joker, did in The Dark Knight.
The movie itself transcends its genre – it has a story, direction, thrilling action that is however (admiringly) upstaged by powerful performances. But Heath Ledger’s towering interpretation is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Unsettling, unpredictable, terrifying, brilliantly nuanced, savouring his darkness. A force of nature. He makes you forget the actor behind the mask and his mere presence on screen makes you nervous. Heath was appearantly given almost complete freedom with his role (you may be familiar with the lengths he went to for the part, like spending much of his time in isolation preparing for the role and carrying a Joker diary around everywhere he went so that he could get back into character anytime) – what can rightfully be considered a stroke of genius, a complete immersion into the role, thus becoming that much more unsettling, too.
photo: Warner Brothers / Legendary Pictures / Syncopy