5 Reasons Heath Ledger Is Wrong for The Joker

     March 31, 2015

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Heath Ledger has come a long way in his career. He broke out as a teen heartthrob in 10 Things I Hate about You and A Knight’s Tale, and in just a few short years, he earned himself an Oscar nomination for his devastating turn in Brokeback Mountain. The guy is a talented actor, but his recent casting as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins sequel—The Dark Knight—seems like a misstep on the director’s part. Here are five reasons why.

He’s Too Pretty

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Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Harley Quinn should find The Joker dreamy. The rest of us should find him horrific. I suppose Nolan can slather him in awful makeup, but that’s a huge risk. How far do you ugly up that face? The studio probably doesn’t want to botch that as a selling point. Also, that’s one of Ledger’s biggest assets. Brokeback Mountain showed he could transform his softer looks into rugged masculinity, but he’s still doing movies like Casanova. The Joker should look weird, and in a very particular way. Ledger’s got a beautiful face, but it’s the wrong face.

It’s Already Difficult to Properly Do the Joker’s Makeup

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Images via Warner Bros.

They’ve tried the Joker on the screen twice, and both times its failed. Cesar Romero refused to shave his moustache and Jack Nicholson looked like Jack Nicholson but with white pancake makeup and lipstick. That’s not going to fit with Nolan’s Gotham, which tried to walk the line between the realistic and the slightly exaggerated (mainly in The Narrows in the third act). The white face seems like a must, and every time I think of Ledger in that kind of makeup, I start to chuckle.

Better Choices Have Already Been Mentioned

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Images via 20th Century Fox and Buena Vista Pictures

Paul Bettany and Adrien Brody have been rumored in connection with the role, and they could each bring something unique to Batman’s archnemesis. Bettany is an incredibly underrated actor, and he could lend the role some gravitas. He looks slightly older, which would give the character an air of experience that Batman lacks at this point in the hero’s development. As for Brody, he has a haunted look that would bring a new spin to the character. Yes, the character is upbeat, but imagine the juxtaposition of Brody being wild and then look at his unusual physiognomy. However, Brody probably would have been a tough get. He strikes me as someone who’s going to be very choosy with his roles, especially after The Village and King Kong didn’t set the world on fire.

Can Ledger Really Play Crazy?

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Image via Focus Features

There’s nothing in Ledger’s filmography to suggest that he has the chaos the Joker requires. The Joker is unpredictable, and Ledger’s best performance thus far has been a masterpiece of restraint. He had to go internal, which is one of the reasons why the emotional outburst at the end of Brokeback Mountain is so devastating. Ledger can play carefree, but that’s very different from a character who doesn’t care about anything.

Nolan’s Batman Isn’t Fanciful

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Image via Warner Bros.

Maybe if Nolan had another take on Batman, Ledger could be a good fit, but as I said before, the director is clearly putting a heavier emphasis on the realistic. Aside from Brokeback Mountain (which plays to a quiet, desperate reality), Ledger does well in more lighthearted fare. He’s a perfect fit for movies like A Knight’s Tale and 10 Things I Hate about You because he’s got a romantic look that straddles the line between classic and modern. Presumably Nolan’s Joker needs to straddle the line between frighteningly real and disturbingly theatrical.

Batman Begins is mostly great (the third act is a mess), and it was definitely the reboot the franchise needed. I’m also grateful that it didn’t lead with the Joker, and that they’re trying to build up to it, although I can’t believe they’re just going to let the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) vanish completely. Throw in Harvey Dent/Two-Face and you have a crowded film. Obviously, you want to put Joker front and center, but this casting and the possible interpretation may end up being a joke.

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