Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cody Jarrett > the Joker

I saw the seminal gangster film, White Heat, starring James Cagney. I couldn't help but compare it to Batman: the Dark Knight. Both flicks feature homicidal crime-lords who ruthlessly slay their own gang members as casually as they do innocent bystanders, and who revel in their manic impulse to destroy.

Cody Jarrett: the original Joker?
Structural similarities abound: Unrelenting violence. A prison break out. A hero who must assume a false identity in the name of good. The use of technology to fight crime.

Yet Cagney's performance as Cody Jarrett is thrilling and disturbing, where Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is to me, fairy inscrutable. And to be honest although the action sequences in Batman were spectacular (particularly in IMAX), I was significantly more engaged and stimulated by the plot in White Heat. The dialogue was crisp and memorable - I'll certainly be quoting Cagney, whereas I can't recall a single line from Nolan's opus.

I have to say that I think White Heat made for a better film than Batman.

White Heat movie poster
What is it about crime movies that make them so intriguing? What does their popularity reveal about our inner nature? Do we secretly yearn for a world where the strictures we live by may be broken with impunity?