His portrayal of The Joker in the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight," will take its place prominently in the annals of cinema villainy, alongside "Psycho's" Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and "The Silence of the Lamb's" Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It certainly is contributing to the film's smash success (a recordbreaking $66.4 million in its opening 24 hours), justifying Alfred Hitchcock's observation that, "A movie is only as good as its villain."
Under Director Christopher Nolan, who co-wrote the script with brother Jonathan, "The Dark Knight" forsakes the campy caricatures of other "Batman" films and the TV show. This is a post-9/11 Dark Knight, the Bruce Wayne mega-millionaire who, as Batman, diverts his inner fears into "Death Wish" revenge on criminals in Gotham City (now Chicago, not Manhattan).
Reprising the role from Nolan's franchise rethink, "Batman Begins," actor Christian Bale combines his "American Psycho" rich yuppie-by-day with Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" as the Caped Crusader by night.
But the movie belongs to Ledger. His Joker is a "Clockwork Orange" agentof chaos super-punk, so ingenious in his wickedness that he puts Gotham in a constant state of high anxiety alert. Impotent and outwitted, Batman/ Bruce Wayne seriously considers hanging up his cowl. He even loses his girl, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), to charismatic District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).
While every Ledger on-screen moment is priceless, sending chills of pure evil up spines everywhere, the film finally stumbles after two hours of soaring action and mind-bending plot twists.
The final 30 minutes are devoted to setting up Dent as new big-time baddie, Two-Face. Unfortunately, it leaves The Joker dangling (literally).
The real tragedy of "The Dark Knight' is that Ledger's wonderful villain will never return.