Saturday, August 26, 2006

the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker in the next Batman film, entitled the Dark Knight, has had me thinking of the Joker as a character. he, much like his arch-enemy, has gone through many transformations over the decades. he started out as a stone-cold killer in his early appearences, then became a gimmicky one-trick sight gag, than became a cackling grotesque whose jokes were only funny to him, and they often invovled the murder and trauma of others.

everyone has their idea of who should play the Joker. i'm not here to do fantasy casting. too many people do that and it doesn't interest me anymore. get over it, Crispin Glover ain't happening (though it would've been nice i'm sure). no i'm here to chart my top 5 "Joker" performances. that is to say, characters in films that are highly evocative of the character. (spoilers abound, nerds).


Edward Norton, Primal Fear, 1996

as Aaron Stampler, Norton appears as a naive boy next door at the mercy of circumstance, convicted of a crime he didn't commit. he remains silent while his lawyer Martin Vail (played by Richard Gere), does everything in his power to win the case. while it appears that Vail is in control, something more sinister is revealed, where Aaron reveals himself to be quite the mannipulator himself.

how is this performance "Joker" esque? well the Joker has been known to be a compulsive liar, changing his story and background to invoke the sympathy of others, often times for his own gain (or even more monstrously, his own ammusement). Norton's performance follows a similar ideal, right to the grinning finale.


Brad Dourif, Child's Play, 1988

a serial killer thought dead returns in a somewhat playful looking body, but with his evil not only intact, but magnified to a demonic level. sound familar? not only that, but Chucky's maddening cackle (courtesy of the always outstanding Brad Dourif) sounds more Killing Joke than anything in cinema.


Kurtwood Smith, Robocop, 1987

the coked-up amoral non-chalance of main villian Clarence Bodicker is perhaps the best incarnate of eighties excess and greed this side of Gordon Gecko. he violently murders on a whim, laughing, cursing, and lobbing blood (sometimes his own) into the face of the law and human decency. if that doesn't scream "Joker" than i don't know what does.


Paul Bettany/Malcom McDowell, Gangster No.1, 2000

this underrated British pulp masterpiece had to impress someone that works on the Batman films, since Paul Bettany was apparently a hair away from snagging the part of the Joker. and why not? as the "Young Gangster" he's deadly, nihilistic, arrogant, and forever in a state of contempt and/or amusement of the good and bad things happening around him. Malcom McDowell plays the character at the age of 55, and while abit more worn and white haired, he's still every bit the glowering bastard. it's like watching where the Joker starts and where he ends up...always smiling.


Tadanobu Asano, Ichi the Killer, 2001

Kakihara. the only thing missing is green hair and white face paint. as the sadistic/masochistic Yakuza hitman, Kakihara (played brillantly by Tadanobu Asano) is every bit the colorful violent eccentric the Joker is, complete with purple trenchcoat and carved-in smile. he tortures others for information and his own amusement, even mutilates himself just to see the look on other people's faces. if "race" wasn't such a big issue, i would've thrown Asano's name into the big purple hat to play the Joker, since he pretty much does it here.

well that was fun.


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