Health & Family

Ledger burns up screen as Joker

The buzz over Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” is justified. With his final full film role, Ledger delivers what may be remembered as the finest performance of his career.

A recent press screening of the “Batman Begins” sequel had the audience cackling along with Ledger's Joker, a depraved creature utterly without conscience whom the late actor played with gleeful anarchy.

At times sounding like a cross between tough guy James Cagney in a gangster flick and Philip Seymour Hoffman's fastidious Truman Capote, Ledger elevates Batman's No. 1 nemesis to a place even Jack Nicholson did not take him in 1989's “Batman.”

The Joker masterminds a series of abductions, assassination attempts, murders and bombings, all aimed at calling out Batman (Christian Bale) and proving to the vigilante hero that they are two sides of the same coin.

“You complete me,” the Joker tells Batman, dementedly borrowing Tom Cruise's sappy romantic line from “Jerry Maguire.”

A best-actor Academy Award nominee for “Brokeback Mountain,” Ledger – who died in January from an accidental prescription drug overdose – has earned fresh Oscar buzz for “The Dark Knight,” which could land him in the supporting-actor race.

Running just over two and a half hours, “The Dark Knight” is a true crime epic. Throughout, the Joker's bag of tricks is bottomless, twisted to the point of horror-flick sick.

“Some men aren't looking for anything logical,” Michael Caine's butler Alfred tells Bruce, who's trying to decipher the Joker's motives. “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Come July 18, when “The Dark Knight” lands in theaters, the world will be watching Ledger burn up the screen.