It's a masterful performance. The changes in his demeanor and psychosis didn't seem forced or contrived. There is a scene where the Joker is in an interrogation room with a police officer, and he's laughing about how many of the cop's friends he's killed. It's asinine to laugh in the face of someone for whom you've caused so much pain, but Ledger pulls it off. We're taught as actors not to judge our characters, especially when playing a villain. Those kinds of roles are particularly fun because you have to go to such an imaginative place to portray them. You usually challenge the immoral choices they make, but Ledger found a way to rationalize the Joker's behavior and give him heart and soul. To me, the movie wasn't about Batman but about the Joker.
In a later scene Batman has the Joker in an interrogation room. Ledger has this cavalier attitude. The criminal is basically trapped, a caged animal, but he maintains control over the situation. He's where he wants to be. He's not caught because he's a victim but because he wanted to be caught. When Batman is beating him up, he's laughing the entire time. You never sense any pain on his part. You question, Does the Dark Knight have control? Is Batman really the intimidating one in this scene? It's like the Joker is the puppeteer, and everyone is dancing to his tune.
In another sequence the Joker takes over a charity ball, and Ledger has a great speech about the Joker's father abusing him as a child. You can really see where his psychosis comes from. You understand why he is so twisted; it's what he was taught. It doesn't justify his behavior, but it justifies him as a character.
I was a big fan of previous Jokers. I used to watch Cesar Romero in the 1960s TV series with Adam West, and then Jack Nicholson took the role to a whole other level in the 1989 film. But Ledger shocked me because he made it more of a character piece. They've done "Batman" on film and TV where the villains just seem like caricatures or comic relief, but here Ledger gave sense and purpose to the role and therefore to Batman. He elevated his nemesis as any villain should. You want to see any hero prevail, but you need a great antagonist to set the conflict, and Ledger's Joker certainly did that.
A really great performance is like a roller-coaster ride. You have to have the ups and downs; you can never be flat. You have to throw a curve that the audience won't understand right away but will later, and maybe even give us some questions about the character for which there are no answers. Ledger did all that, not missing one beat. It was in the way he spoke, the way he moved, even the way he just looked at somebody. He set a blueprint for playing villains for the rest of us.
Aldis Hodge will return for the fifth season of TNT's "Leverage." He will be seen in the film "The East," and his other TV credits include "Friday Night Lights," "Supernatural," "Girlfriends," "American Dreams" and "City of Angels."