Just as Heath Ledger’s performance was guaranteed to be overhyped in the months before the release of The Dark Knight over the summer, it was inevitable that in the months following its release (leading up to its DVD/Bluray release this coming Tuesday) would see a backlash. In the last few weeks we’ve read at least two write-ups of the show that were dismissive of Ledger’s scalding, indelible performance and wound up praising Jack Nicholson’s take on the Joker in the 1989 version. Wrongheaded indeed, as Nicholson’s performance is nearly unbearable to watch - a shallow, mincing tour de farce that became a perfect example of the depths that the once estimable actor had reached. The Witches of Eastwick had helped create a bronze cast of the indulgences that began showing up in The Shining, and by the time Hoffa came around, Nicholson had stopped acting altogether to become an overpaid ham – a children’s party clown with an 8 figure paycheck.
And then I remember this
I don’t know if it’s the utter defeat in his reading of “You’re trying to kill me” or when his voice cracks with henpecked rage at the word “coffin”, but there’s magic here. The kind of very real magic that can happen when an actor and material hit a perfect stride. And then I think of all the really, really fine performances that he’s turned in since. Not just the Jake Gittes or the R.P. McMurphys, but his note-perfect supporting turn as Eugene O’Neil in Reds or his spectacular deadpan readings in About Schmidt. I can’t imagine that he wants to cap off his career with The Bucket List anymore than I want to see it (which ain’t much) so I’ll hold out hope that he’s got one more Carnal Knowledge in him